26 Mar A chat with Autism advocate Anna Kennedy
by Dan Bryans
Ahead of this week’s World Autism Awareness Week, we had a candid chat with UK’s leading Autism advocate and the Simon Cowell of Autism, Anna Kennedy OBE who is the supremo behind Autism’s Got Talent talks to us about the importance of the week and key challenges that still need addressing.
Q. Anna what are your thoughts on the upcoming Autism Awareness Week?
AK: Autism awareness week is a week that creates an opportunity to raise the profile and levels of understanding of an autism spectrum condition .
It creates for me as one of the UK Autism Ambassador’s , charities and groups the possibility of increased networking across social media to help build stronger community links. Although, the focus the awareness week attracts provides an opportunity to shine a light on the thousands of children and adults whose lives are diminished because of the lack of support or in some cases discrimination.
As a UK Autism charity we are forging ahead to create a platform that highlight’s the many achievements of people with an autism spectrum condition for example: our recent ‘Building Bridges’ Charity Album Launch.
However, it would be wrong to ignore the many challenges that exist for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.
Q. In your opinion what should this week achieve for Autism as a whole?
AK: In my opinion it is important to highlight the frustration that many adults experience because of lack of opportunities to gain full employment . After some research it is less than one third of adults with an autism spectrum condition are in any kind of paid employment and this is an area which has shown no improvement despite it being over 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now the Equality Act 2010) was passed .
There needs to be continuous focus on the benefits of early intervention for children with autism as can be clearly evidenced when children attend the school I set up for my boys Patrick and Angelo.
Local Authorities and local NHS services would benefit in the long run with reference to costs instead of throwing money to support the individual when it becomes crisis point and the child or adults mental health is affected.
Q. Which key areas are still lacking attention in relation to autism?
AL: I feel frustrated almost every day that The Equality Act 2010 is not being adhered to in many cases and it clearly provides a framework for supporting adults who have a disability in the workplace.
It is unfortunate but the rights and responsibilities contained in the Act are not understood as well as they should be. Autism Awareness Week provides a learning opportunity for disabled adults and employers
As far as children are concerned, the week can help highlight best practice which again is not being followed in many cases. There are many interventions available to parents and educators and all of which have their strengths. That said, there should be an emphasis on building at least an agreement on what constitutes best practice.
Some people may say this exists, but this is debatable.
Autism awareness week could provide a safe space for sharing and evaluating interventions, which is something that has to be in the best interests of children.
If you think about the number of children and adults with an autism spectrum condition along with their family members the “autism community” runs into millions!
As an Autism Ambassador and Chairperson of a UK charity I would like to suggest there should be more emphasis on building a stronger “community”.
A community would be stronger if there was an understanding that there is strength in being united. At the moment there are many groups that are not willing to work together or share information that can support families. I have created an almost autism virtual community where I share new information nearly every day across social media which reaches almost a million people each month.
Q. What’s your message to all families with autistic friends and relatives during such an important week?
I have created a formula be positive and consider following our LAMP formula . These letters stand for :
L – Learn about the condition and appreciate that it is a lifelong . This also means learning about the environment ie education, employment that the individual with an ASD finds themselves
A- Advocate for yourself or family members and where possible other possible others also affected by ASD
M – Make a difference, this means working in a way that make things better for members of the ASD community. A victory, however small it may seem, can yield tremendous positive benefits.
P – Positive. It is essential to be positive. I admit there are many challenges and often these can seem overwhelming, but work through these challenges and if need be ask for support from other members of the community