At Dubai Twestival, I was given the wonderful opportunity to speak for a few minutes about autism, given my personal interest in it. I remember having a vague idea – a bullet point list if you will – of things I wanted to cover in the 2-4 minutes I was allotted. Problem was, once I started talking…well, autism is something I can talk about for ages, so I went along my own meandering path, going wherever my synapses were telling me to go.
So…now that I can put pen to paper (or fingers-to-keyboard-to-screen) and try not to get distracted emotionally (as I did in the middle of what I was saying at Twestival…remembering how society in general has treated us sometimes was painful), here’s what I want to say to everyone reading…
As I mentioned while talking, the awareness among people in Dubai about special needs and autism is appalling. It really is. Granted, there is so much more awareness over the last few years…but remember, I’ve been around in Dubai for dog’s years. I was here when Karan was diagnosed, I was here in the late 1990s when there was no help for us, I was here in the 2000s when we’ve faced problems over getting him into a good school. The general public just doesn’t know what it is. Either they’ve never heard of autism, or they have some fandangled opinions about it. The textbook definition will tell you that autism is a lifelong developmental disability where the person has impaired communication skills and social interaction, and can indulge in repetitive behaviour or be obsessed with something. It’s true enough. However, there are so many other issues…readers of this blog will know we’ve dealt with non-verbal issues (Karan does not speak to communicate with us), clothing issues, food issues, self-help issues and so much more.
One VERY important thing: if you’ve met one person with autism…you’ve met one person with autism. Each person with autism comes with their own set of unique challenges. The standard definition is like an umbrella, if you will. While that definition holds true, you’ll find n-number of differences with each autistic person who overcome completely different obstacles.
Now I’d like to appeal to organizations and businesses within the community. With the current rates of autism (1 in 110 globally, think it’s 1 in 100 in UK, lower in other places), within the next 5-10 years, we, the society, will have on our hands a massive number of adults with autism. It’s an employment resource just waiting to be tapped (and here I acknowledge that sadly, there are some adults whose autism is severe enough that they cannot work throughout their lives). Like in the neuro-typical (NT) world (or all you so-called “normal” people out there), it works the same here: if you’re good at something, that’s where you would like to get some work. Just because a person has special needs doesn’t mean they cannot be a productive member of society. It is so important for people with special needs – not monetarily, mind you – to have a sense of self-respect and self-worth (and goodness knows a major chunk of society gives them no respect whatsoever). Employment is a way of enhancing self-esteem and self-worth, and gives dignity and acceptance to anyone. I know of a couple of organizations in the UAE that do take on interns with special needs and give them jobs, as part of a social responsibility program. My brother’s school is heavily involved in placing their older students with organizations such as banks and hotels. Students are also encouraged to focus on an activity that they are good at and can hold them in good stead when it comes to future employment. Yes, it’s a little bit of extra work, and extra training… but trust me, organizations will find that once the person knows what he/she has to do, they will not stop at anything to get it done for you. Think about it.
So please… don’t forget about autism. It’s here to stay… it’s the so-called NTs that need to adjust.