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The acceptance of autism in our society

PUBLISHED: 12:29 22 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:33 22 June 2016

Gillan with his fiancée Lizzie and daughter Isabella

Gillan with his fiancée Lizzie and daughter Isabella

Philip Hartley

Bob Lowndes, Chief Executive of leading regional charity Autism Wessex asks: if we can put autism on TV, can we accept autism in real life?

In recent months autism has been in the media spotlight both in the hit BBC drama The A Word, and with the release of sobering research purporting that those with autism have low life expectancy.

As a charity, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018, Autism Wessex has supported thousands of individuals, and families affected by autism. Two such people, Gillan Drew and his fiancée Lizzie Galton have been supported by Autism Wessex for over eight years. Both were young adults before their autism was ‘seen’. Lizzie was 20 when she received a diagnosis of high-functioning autism and Gillan was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome aged 28.

Those 28 years take a person through most major life stages – from newborn and infancy, through early childhood, middle childhood and late childhood, adolescence, to early adulthood. Gillan and Lizzie had to navigate their way through each pivotal phase without accurate diagnosis - and therefore without access to support, understanding or empathy. Each undiagnosed phase influenced all their later life.

For Gillan this meant suicidal thoughts, self-harm and general despair. At 17 he was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed anti-depressants. Over the following years he was on and off various anti-depressants, bounced from job to job, university to university and had several breakdowns. Gillan was alternately diagnosed with mild mood swings, mild depression, bipolar and borderline personality disorder. Then his parents happened to read a book about Asperger’s Syndrome and Gillan was finally referred to see if this was the issue. A successful diagnosis of Asperger’s followed.

Now Gillan is a 36-year-old father of one; he is humorous, fiercely intelligent, protective and utterly doting on the ladies in his life: his 31-year-old fiancée, Lizzie (who he met at a Drop-In group run by Autism Wessex seven years ago) and their one-year-old daughter Isabella. Post diagnosis, life took a turn for the better and with the support of Autism Wessex, Gillan and Lizzie have found their daily life is much happier and they are getting married later this month.

The appearance of a prime time television drama such as The A Word is certainly a step forward, but at the same time people still prefer to fixate on autism as something associated with childhood, and avert their eyes from the issues surrounding adults with autism.

Autism is a lifelong condition. Children with autism will become adults with autism. While there is no cure for autism, we believe that with appropriate education, support and care and by making the world an easier place to understand, the impact of autism can be reduced and people with autism can be active citizens enjoying maximum independence and a good quality of life.

Perhaps, with the help of the recent media spotlight, we will lessen the pressure on those with autism having to understand the world around them, because the world around them will finally take it upon themselves to understand and accept autism.

Find out more

Autism Wessex provides Portfield School for education services, Community Wessex for social care services and a range of Advocacy and Advice services. For more information visit autismwessex.org.uk. Read Gillan’s brilliantly witty blog about fatherhood - Aspie Daddy at asdaddy.com.

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