What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person sees and interacts with the world at large. It also has an impact on how a person makes sense of the relationships they have with others, from family and friends to anyone they may meet on the street. It is a spectrum condition, which means that autism doesn't look the same for everybody. There's a beautiful anagram for Autism, which encapsulates the condition wonderfully:
Some people with autism are able to live completely independent lives, whilst others might need a little more helps. The nature of these challenges is probably best described by The Autism Education Trust (http://www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk/About-AET/What-is-Autism.aspx).
What uniques challenges do people with autism have to traverse, and how do we help our young people with autism to navigate said challenges?
Social interaction - This includes recognising and understanding other people’s feelings and managing their own. Empathy. Love. Understanding. Frustration. Anger. Dealing with those emotions and what they mean. Not understanding how to interact with other people can make life hard. That's not to say people with autism can't form those relationships. Not at all. At Crocus Fields we pride ourselves on helping our young people to thrive in their relationships. Our young people just have a different way of doing things. And we celebrate that.
Social communication - This can include using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. We use a wide variety of techniques to help our young people express themselves. These vary from art and expression, to Makaton and symbols.
Social imagination - This includes the ability to understand and predict other people’s intentions and behaviour and to imagine situations outside of their own routine. At Crocus Fields we use a multitude of tools to coach our young people through these situations. Social stories and reflection, being just two examples.
What are the other characteristics of autism?
Routine - At Crocus Fields we recognise the need for routine and difficulty with change - the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place. Especially to people with autism, and may prefer to have a fixed daily routine so that they know what is going to happen every day. Which is understandable, right? Particularly as we negotiate the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of our children's lives were turned upside down, and we certainly rose to the challenge of supporting the young people of Crocus Fields. People with autism may not be comfortable with the idea of change, and never has there been more rapid and testing changes to our young people's lives as there has been since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Sensory sensitivity/processing difficulties - People with autism may experience sensory sensitivity and processing in unique ways, which can appear in one or more of the five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. A person with autism’s senses may be intensified (hyper-sensitive) or under-sensitive (hypo-sensitive). People with inique sensory sensitivity/processing may also find it harder to use their body awareness system. This system tells us where our bodies are, so for those with reduced body awareness, it can be harder to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, stand at an appropriate distance from other people and carry out ‘fine motor’ tasks such as tying shoelaces.
Special interests - Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong, and can be anything from art or music, to trains or computers. And we love this at Crocus Fields! We celebrate this, whilst trying to open up new horizons for our young people.
Learning disabilities - Some people with autism may experience learning difficulties, meaning that they learn things differently to other people. As with autism, people can have different ‘degrees’ of learning disability. A learning disability can affect all aspects of someone’s life: from learning in school, to preparing a meal. At Crocus Fields we recognise the uniqueness of the individual. There is no failure here. Each young person's potential is different, and we know that. One young person's successes are different to the next. And that's fantastic.
At the same time as recognising the special needs and difficulties that are shared by young people with autism it is essential that we keep to the forefront of our minds the individuality of each child. At Crocus Fields, we devise a highly individualised programme of care and experiences for each young person. This takes account of their strengths, interests, needs and choice.