World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2017, and this is one day that I don’t want to go by without acknowledging. According to the most up-to-date statistics, the number of people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to rise in Australia. Autism was once considered rare. In fact, when I grew up, there weren’t many people with Autism that I knew. In hindsight, I now realise that the one or two kids that seemed to have indescribable behaviour challenges would have most likely been on the spectrum. Sadly, they were simply labelled as ‘bad kids’ and were constantly in trouble at school. I so wish we knew then what we know now. I think of those kids often. Then, on the flipside of challenging behaviour, there were the super smart kids who couldn’t connect socially, or on the sports field yet they were pushed to play team sports and struggled through it all. Again, if we knew then what we know now, life would have been so different for those incredible kids I went to school with back in the 60’s. Once considered rare, now 31% of NSIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) participants are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
As most of you know, Rob and I are passionate about children and understand, not only through our personal parenting journey of four children and now grandchildren, that children come in all shapes and sizes. We get the unique opportunity to see all of these beautiful shapes and sizes on a daily basis through Little Miracles and through the incredible work we get to do in Indonesia, India and Rwanda. Children are a gift to the world, and they all have something special to offer. I love watching the children go about their day, and I wonder, who will be the next politician, businesswoman or man, plumber, sparky, preacher, teacher or entrepreneur? What will they become and who will they grow to be? So much potential and so much vigour and gusto for parents and for educators to help guide and shape.
This list of people below have achieved great things in their chosen field, and may even surprise you to learn that they are actually on the autism spectrum. This proves that autism does not hinder talent, in fact, it accentuates it. It is inspiring to know the social difficulties attached to autism spectrum disorder can inspire fantastic success. The display of ground-breaking research, award-winning entertainment and showcase of extraordinary talent on the world stage is certainly something worthy of celebrating.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Tim Burton
- Andy Warhol
- Dan Akyroyd – Academy Award Nominated actor, has Aspergers Syndrome.
- Satoshi Tajiri – the creator of Pokemon, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.
- Albert Einstein – could not speak until he was three.
- Thomas Jefferson
- Steven Spielberg
- Susan Boyle
- Temple Grandin – Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and autism activist.
- Jessica-Jane Applegate, MBE – British swimmer and Paralympic gold and silver medalist (London 2012/Rio 2016).
In 2010, the research found 1 in 63 Australian school children have a formal autism diagnosis and in 2012 – the Australian Bureau of Statistics found 115,000 Australians to be on the autism spectrum. There is no doubt that autism seems to bring with it an ingrained stigma with any mention. It is, therefore, important to showcase the spectrum to educate and inform the general public, so this unfair stereotype can be removed. By recognising and valuing the contributions of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we can respect and appreciate the diversity within our community.
So, to those who are parenting a child with Autism, we are cheering you on and with you on this journey. I wonder, are you raising the next Spielberg? Maybe a little Mozart is in your home. Who knows and I find that exciting. Can I encourage you that when the days are hard and the nights are long, remember that like Temple Grandin or others, perhaps the words are hard to find, sounds yet to be created and experienced and they are doing their best to be the best version of themselves?
Children are fascinating and truly are all shapes, sizes and all function so differently. I wonder at the world that Temple Grandin speaks of, one whereby we focus on what children can do rather than what they can’t. What an EXTRAordinary world that would be and certainly one I was to be part of.
Let’s all join and acknowledge the incredible individuals and families who are walking the journey of Autism.
Susanna Bateman #littlemiraclescommunity