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Autism Inclusion - Listening to the autistic voice is the way forward

Autism Inclusion - Listening to the autistic voice is the way forward

The Communication and Interaction team for North Yorkshire County Council specialise in providing services to children and young people across the county who have a range of communication and interaction needs, Autism and neurodiversity. We work hard to ensure that our practice is cutting edge, mindful of current research and development and in particular, valuing the opinions and experience of the autistic community. 

Raising awareness of Autism

In recent years, there has been a push for autism awareness across the globe. We have focussed on delivering autism training into schools for the past three years. There is currently a major shift in thinking to advance from awareness, to acceptance, and ensuring that all humanity’s diversity is accepted, included and valued. As we move forward in our thinking, there comes a need for a deeper understanding of Autism, and central to that is ensuring we are listening to the autistic voice.

Language

There continues to be much debate about language. When referring to autistic individuals, our team try to use identity-first language. This is language that is widely accepted and has been developed by autistic individuals, parents, researchers, and advocates. For example, describing someone as autistic is considered more appropriate and acceptable than saying a person with autism. That is because being autistic is inseparable from a person’s identity.

An example of how we are mindful of identity, is with our consideration of Pathological Demand Avoidance. This is a presentation of autism when a person experiences such high levels of anxiety, in all situations, that they are unable to respond to demands (which may be requests, routines, bodily functions even). We feel that the terminology of PDA can be unhelpful: avoidance implies choice. Interventions therefore often target resulting behaviours rather than the root cause, which is actually the anxiety. When we are working with families and professionals to support children and young people, we adapt our language and refer to pervasive demand anxiety, which is much more helpful in describing what it is. We can then more readily tailor interventions to address anxiety and develop strategies for the child or young person to cope, and be more able to respond to demands.

Changing the language we use is not enough to foster inclusion, however. It is important to think about interventions and environments as well. Historically, interventions and strategies for autistic people have centred around changing the person and their behaviours to suit widely held societal expectations. Moving towards inclusion, we need to focus on adapting and enabling the environment, not the person. We have a philosophy that our supportive interventions always include adaptations to environment and also what the adults can do differently. We should meet the child in their comfort zone, not expect them to do all of the changing. 

Supporting children

Another element of our intervention is to support autistic children and young people to develop confidence, self-awareness and self-identity in order to become advocates for themselves. Independent coping strategies for the real world are a key goal for us in terms of ensuring resilience and preparation for adulthood.

Inclusion means feeling like you belong. Identify-first language, adapting environments, educating adults and enabling autistic people to cope with daily life are all invaluable steps towards the ultimate goal of achieving this.

Next steps

We are now delivering a programme of follow on training to build on initial autism training. These Spectrum Sessions include a range of materials including Girls, PDA, Sensory, Understanding Behaviour, Emotional Regulation.

The sessions explore the topics in more detail and include practical strategies for professionals to take away for use in the classroom. To access more information and training, please click on the links below or contact: nyes@northyorks.gov.uk  

Autism Spectrum Sessions – 10 February

Sensory
Emotional Regulation & Resilience
PDA
Understanding Behaviour