Beyond awareness and into acceptance. Our society needs to accept those with autism and not cast them aside.

Today the Havering Daily starts a new series focusing on autism and how it is still not accepted in our society. April has been Autism Awareness month and has highlighted in the media challenges faced by autistic people across our community. Still, to this day, the list of obstacles faced by autistic people grows and does not get any easier for them. We will be speaking to parents of autistic children and autistic people about the ongoing struggles they face.

This is a topic close to my heart as I have spent many years watching the challenges my friend who is autistic, deal with and just how small minded certain individuals can be when dealing with autistic people. After years of seeing their behaviour, I have actually come to the conclusion that it is ignorance and lack of education and understanding that makes them react in this manner.

It is believed that there are currently over 700,000 people in the UK that have been diagnosed with autism. Those seeking to find employment still struggle and are very frequently over looked because they are considered ‘strange’.

I first met my friend as teenager at a county cricket club where I was working as a student during the holidays. Her mother informed me that she was autistic and she would often just walk around on her own with her soft toys and her television guides in hand. She was already in her 30’s but did not look it. I slowly began to make friends with her and during the weeks we became friends and she started to call me ‘my friend Fran.’

The more time I spent with her, the more I came to realise just how amazing she is and those small acts of standing next to me when she felt unsure about a situation, really meant a great deal to me.

Yet it was here that I began to see just how unaccepted those with autism really are in our community. We would often walk about the ground together, she likes her routine so we would stick to the same route everyday, seeing the same things and talking about tv shows or celebrities that had been in her magazines that she likes to look at. Some people would come up and say hello and even try and chat with her. She might wave, but often looked down and asked me what they wanted. She likes to see what was is going on and smiled if I made a joke about a situation to make her feel more at ease.

Sadly however, the number of people who did not accept her far out numbered those who did and I started to realise this at an early stage. Often when we walked around together she could be loud at times or say things unexpectedly that many people did not know how to deal with, so chose to view her as a monster with two heads.

Many people would cross the road to be away from her, many viewed her like an alien, many quickly moved away from her as if she was contagious and spreading a fatal disease. Some even got up out of their seats to change location to be away from her. All incidents I found quite heartbreaking really.

They never even gave her the chance to know her like I do, for the amazing person she is and the lovely personality she has. I have now come to the conclusion that this is from lack of education and understanding. We need to understand that we are all different and that is what makes our society what it is. We cannot all be the same.

People with autism have a right to be accepted in our society and appreciated for who they really are. They have every right to have the same equalities we have and not viewed as second class citizens.

My friend taught me to understand that we come in all shapes and sizes and view the world in many different ways, but that’s what makes life important and I know that when she laughs and finally feels accepted that she has friends around her, that’s what matters.

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