There are around 700,000 people in the UK who are on the autism spectrum. Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition that affects how a person experiences the world around them, and how they communicate and relate to other people. But it is a spectrum, meaning that no one person’s experience of autism is the same as another person’s. As the famous saying (attributed to Dr Stephen Shore) within the autism community goes “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Autism falls within a very broad range of conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that come under the term Neurodiversity. This term is used to reflect the fact that all neurological differences should be recognised and respected, and are a reflection of normal variations in the human genome. The focus is on support systems that allow people to live their lives as they are rather than having to adopt accepted ideas of what is so called ‘normal’ behaviour.
Check out the NAS’s campaign Too Much Information – it challenges the myths, perceptions and stereotypes around autism. They have created a series of great resources that help explain how some people with autism experience the world, and what you can do to help. So a great place to start is to enable your teams to take a look at the following link:
Do a spot of fundraising – Of course, a fundraising campaign is always a good idea to raise awareness and again the NAS have a fantastic resource to help you all along the way. Check out their link for fundraising packs and ideas: www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/world-autism-awareness-week
Open your doors – It would be a great opportunity to hold an open-doors style Familiarisation Event enabling your visitors to see what you’re all about in a less stressful and manageable way and without the usual crowds and hubbub. Although as part of the Familiarisation day you could offer to replicate the environment that your visitors would experience if they did choose to come along to a performance or event, for example by putting on the bright lights, and putting music through the PA system. That way it will feel more familiar if they do attend an actual performance or event in future. Why not incorporate a quiet hour like the NAS initiative and use the awareness week not only to hold such events, but also to launch the idea of doing them regularly:
Create a Visual Story – these provide really clear information about your venue, incorporating photos and simple text, and help some people to reduce their anxiety about new places and experiences. There are lots of examples out there – just search for Social or Visual Stories to see what they’re all about. Then you can create yours in time for the awareness week.
Schedule a Relaxed, or Autism-friendly performance, event or opening time – or promote the dates of one coming up. Relaxed events are modified for people who either have an autistic spectrum condition, and / or a complex learning disability. Adjustments are made to how you deliver your performance, event or service to ensure there is a more relaxed atmosphere, and one that is less likely to cause issues for anyone who has difficulty with loud noises, bright or flashing lighting or crowds. If you run shop or a cafe you could promote a relaxed ‘hour’ or specified time where you make adjustments to the environment, or do you have a quiet, or chill-out, space that your visitors can use if they need to bring their anxiety down.
Rethink your interview technique – If you have job vacancies coming up you could think about the way you plan to run interviews etc. Leena Haque, who is herself autistic, is the Senior User Experience (UX) Designer for BBC CAPE (Creating a Positive Environment), an initiative advocating Neurodiversity and the importance of considering design and accessibility from a cognitive perspective. She says for someone who is on the autistic spectrum, a job interview can feel like a Mexican stand off! So, think about alternative ways you can talk to prospective employees and how you are going to find the talent within: