But to work out how to help autistic* kids, you first need to ask "what is autism?" And there are as many answers to that question, as there are autism 'experts'.
I would see it as a neurological difference that means that autistic people experience the world very differently and that can make it a frightening, unpredictable, illogical and overwhelming place. Lights really can be blinding and sounds deafening, people confusing and danger seemingly around every corner.
Of course, this is what I think right now - ask me again in a year and I could tell you something different. And hopefully, less negative too.
I don't want autism to be like this, and I often read about autistic children who are overcoming their difficulties and doing really well in school or the adult world, and it got me wondering about what does help a child with autism to 'succeed'?
Parents who are consistent and united?
Parents who have autism themselves?
Parents who have enough free time to really concentrate on the kid with autism?
Support from family and respite so that families and the child with autism can get regular breaks?
Schools that really understand?
Therapists who are permanent?
Even as I write that list I'm listening for the sounds of hollow laughs from autism families whose experiences have been completely different. With endless battles, lack of support, family fights, isolation and lack of understanding and interest.
What else would make a difference?
Information : Every year I see parents ask the same questions in autism forums. Because the answers are not out there. The books we are told to read don't seem to answer our most pressing questions. We need the truth and real practical advice when there is a crisis, like the helpline proposed by Irish Autism Action.
Services : Appropriate services make a huge difference to children and their life chances. Watching a child with autism blossom will help their families too, reducing frustration and even depression and divorce rates.
School : The school needs to fit the child. Not vice versa. How this can be achieved within a school setting when every child is different, I am not sure, but right now some children have access to excellent autism education, and some do not. Individual Education Plans for children with additional needs are not compulsory in Ireland, so there may be no year on year comparison of progress and no agreed accommodations to help them succeed.
Accommodations : Wouldn't it be great if it wasn't just cinemas that have autism days? Because as well as encouraging people not to judge a child having a meltdown in a crowded supermarket, wouldn't it be better if there were days or times when the environment could be quieter, with less people, dimmer lighting and calming music? And perhaps no meltdowns at all?
Parenting : Ultimately I think it's about finding the right parenting strategy for your individual child, and finding it early, that is the key. And sometimes that is down to luck. It's also about having the resources - time, money and emotional - to be able to implement it. Not to turn your child into someone they are not, but to help them be the best they can be, and happy and fulfilled in their adult life.
What goes so wrong for so many with autism? I understand that the way the world operates right now disables so many people. So how do we change the world and make it inclusive for all?
I don't thing that there is a magic formula to solve everything. I'm trying to do my bit, even if what I write is just a tiny pebble cast into the autism awareness ocean. I'm hoping that every bit of awareness helps create waves, however small, that may one day result in every autistic child gets everything they need. Let's hope so.
Happy World Autism Awareness Day!
*I'm using 'child with autism' and 'autistic kids' interchangeably in this post because I'm in favour of both descriptions.
Note: Recently I was told that my posts about autism are always on the negative side, and I am sorry about that, but I guess that this family's experience of autism has not been very positive so far. I'm hoping that will change though!