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Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 12:34 GMT
Campaign tackles autism ignorance
distressed child
People with autism can find it difficult to form friendships
A campaign aimed at increasing public awareness of autism has been launched after research showed widespread misconceptions about the condition.

An estimated 50,000 people in Scotland have autism, which can affect how they communicate with and relate to others.

A survey by the National Autistic Society found many people were unaware of the severity of the condition, or believed it affected only children.

The society hopes its Think Differently campaign will increase understanding.

The survey found that 92% of people were unaware of how common autism and the related Asperger syndrome are, while a third of those questioned believed that all autistic people had special gifts, like Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie Rainman, when it is actually only one in every 200.

A third of people surveyed also said they believed the life-long developmental disability only affects children.

We find that parents are often subjected to hostility from the general public simply because of a lack of understanding
Robert Moffat
National Autistic Society

Robert Moffat, a regional officer with the National Autistic Society in Scotland, said ignorance about autism often devastated the lives of those born with the condition and their carers.

He added: "We find that parents are often subjected to hostility from the general public simply because of a lack of understanding. I know of parents who have been on the receiving end of this hostile reaction in supermarkets.

"What we find is that people will look at a child who is perhaps having some difficulties or a tantrum in a supermarket and they will act in an extremely judgemental and negative way towards this.

"We have found that there are a number of misconceptions out there so the campaign is aimed at trying to rebut these misconceptions."

Mr Moffat said part of the problem was the wide spectrum of different conditions linked to autism, which means each individual autistic person's condition is different.

Support quest

Parent Norman Gray said his 28-year-old son Andrew's life had been a "misery" until he was eventually diagnosed with autism nine years ago.

Mr Gray added: "When Andrew was very young they said there was something wrong with him but they didn't know what it was.

"He was then treated as a person with learning difficulties but not specifically autism and therefore there was no means of gearing any education towards his needs."

He was spat upon and pushed and jostled. If that didn't happen he was shunned by others
Norman Gray

Mr Gray said Andrew started off in mainstream schooling, where he was subjected to constant bullying, before being moved into special units which were not dedicated to autism itself.

He recalled: "Andrew had a miserable life in terms of his peers. For example, we would put him to school for 8.30 in the morning and we got punishment exercises back home for him being late into registration.

"What had been happening was Andrew had been bullied and was taking alternative routes to get to registration or wasn't even going to registration to avoid the bullies.

"He was spat upon and pushed and jostled. If that didn't happen he was shunned by others because he was odd and different and they wouldn't relate and play with him in the normal way."

Mr Gray said his son's life had been transformed when he was finally diagnosed with autism at the age of 19.

"When he was diagnosed we were then able to able to access the support of the National Autistic Society itself," Mr Gray said.

"He was also then able to join a local disabled swimming club, the Discovery swimming club, and that opened a whole new life up for him."

Father of autism sufferer tells his story

Autism campus opens in Ayrshire
21 Sep 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West
Autistic pupils 'underachieving'
31 Oct 06 |  Scotland
Call for wider autism awareness
21 May 05 |  Scotland
03 Mar 05 |  Medical notes


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