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April was Autism Awareness Month, with World Autism Awareness Day falling on April 2nd this year, which started Autism Awareness week in the UK (ending on April 8th).
There was a lot of talk about it on the Internet, with many people using various social media platforms to spread knowledge about the month and what it stands for, as well as to advocate for various organisations that they support or that should not be supported. There were several viral posts circulating as well, which strongly discouraged donating to and/or supporting Autism Speaks, due to the harmful ideas it perpetuates about ‘curing’ autism, and actively silencing people who have it, focusing more on presenting autistic individuals as burdens to their friends and family.
Amidst all the online activity, I was quite surprised not to hear anything from the people that I know in real life, having made the mistake of assuming that people were as informed as I was, and that they shared or had seen the same sources as me. That, in turn prompted me to look up resources for autism in Lancaster and in the university.
There is a branch of the National Autistic Society in Lancaster (Lancaster and Morecambe NAS branch), and they organise groups and events for individuals on the autistic spectrum. On their Facebook page, they have announced an information morning starting at 10 am on May 4th in Firbank’s Children Centre in Lancaster (about a 15-minute walk or a 4-minute taxi ride from Lancaster bus station).
In Week 22, during the English Language (LING102) lecture by Elena Semino, in a discussion of Stylistic Analysis, the primary focus was “The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, a book with an autistic protagonist and narrator, and the analysis focused mainly on the way in which language can represent a condition. Additionally, there was a discussion of language and communication difficulties in people on the autistic spectrum, and the way language can be made accessible to them. Semino pointed out that while the word ‘autistic’ was not used even once in the book, the character has been identified as such, and heis represented as autistic in blurbs and reviews discussing the book.
There was also a stand in Alexandra Square, with students giving out (and helping participants make) slime as a form of stimulation toy. It was very pleasant in texture and was comprised of glitter, dishwashing liquid and salt. It was completely free, and while making it, the students were chatting to people about autism awareness and the ways in which we can be more supportive towards individuals on the spectrum, while also emphasising the importance of stim toys and acceptable ways to stim in public.
Overall, despite the lack of very loudly professed campaigning, the awareness of autism can be felt in the Lancaster community, and with that in mind, we can only hope to improve the experience of students and staff who are on the spectrum, and create safe spaces for them and their loved ones.