Stretch and Challenge (5)

Posted: 17th January 2018


Woon Sim Tan (Upper V Alpha) researched Autism for her Stretch and Challenge project.  Inspired by personal circumstances, she investigated people’s attitudes and the reality of life lived with autism.  Woon Sim Tan’s project shows that our Stretch and Challenge programme allows pupils to investigate any topic of interest – from an in-depth look at an academic subject, to one of social concern or a scientific area.

‘Why have I chosen autism as a topic? The reason is not purely out of curiosity but more personal – my brother is autistic. As a sister, I see quite a lot of what he goes through in the world. As children, people are more accepting as they are yet to be conditioned by society. However, as time passes, and he grows older, people look at him differently. The difficulties faced by autistic people are not as well-known as they should be, simply because they look just like you and me. Seeing a person holding a crutch on the tube would prompt you to give up your seat. Why? Because their problem is visible. Autism is not something you can tell just by looking at someone.

Many people have a misconception of autism. Some might think it’s just the child misbehaving and throwing a temper tantrum. Why are you over-indulging him? Some think that the parents brought the child up wrongly and the stress just got too much. They are wrong.

I conducted a survey recently and asked people how they would define autism to someone who does not know about it. These are a few of the responses I received:

  • People with special needs. In America, people who do exceptionally well in school are deemed as special needs. Does that mean they are disabled in any way?
  • Keep to themselves and don’t interact with others. That is not always true. My brother is autistic, and sometimes I just wish he would stop talking.
  • Where someone has a lower IQ than most people. This I would argue is definitely not true. My brother is able to recite the stations of each London underground line in order right away if you ask him to. Are you able to do that? If not, what gives you the right to say that they have a lower IQ?

On this picture is the definition of autism by the World Health Organisation.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively. Autism is a spectrum. There are some people in the spectrum who are high functioning, which means they are able to live life mostly as you and I do. For those who are on the low-functioning end of the spectrum a lot more help is required and they might not be able to live independently as an adult.

From the previous picture you could probably tell autism awareness is not very high. What has been done to change that? Some of you may remember the assembly we had on World Mental Health Day. My question is, why is it that we get an assembly on this subject every year but none on World Autism Awareness day?

Onesie Wednesday in 2014 coincided with World Autism Awareness Day, where people were encouraged to wear a onesie or pyjamas to show their support for those on the autism spectrum. It was a way of spreading the message that it’s alright to be different.

Through our interactions with autistic people, we are able to see how society looks at them. We know what is ‘proper and correct behaviour’, and what isn’t. To many, autistic people are weird, because they do not act in the same way we do, but have we tried putting ourselves in their shoes? It’s like we are all wearing glasses, and while some see through blue-tinted glasses, others see through yellow-tinted glasses. We may physically see the same thing, but our past experiences have shaped how we view it.

Upon seeing such an image as in the picture above, most people would put their focus on the elephant and its calf, as seen in the photo on the right. Autistic people generally focus their attention on the centre of the photo, despite its content.

In this picture (above), although there is some focus on the person on the left, most of the focus still remains close to the centre of the photo, as compared to a non-autistic person who would place his attention on the person on the left. So, what does this signify? How does looking at a photo relate to how those with autism act? The research has shown us that autistic people do perceive the world differently, and thus this results in different responses.

Here is the address where you can watch a video called Take a Minute.  It is on the website of The National Autistic Society: .

Instead of experiencing the way they see things, you will be able to experience a fraction of what autistic people hear in their lives and what they go through daily.  Towards the end, without looking at subtitles, how many of you managed to hear what the guy was saying? Imagine having to go through that every day without the help of subtitles. Is it any wonder autistic people require special help? What makes them different to those who are hearing impaired or visually impaired? You just can’t see the crutches they are using.

This brings us to the end of my presentation. I hope you have learnt something and gained some insight on the life of autistic people. Thank you for your attention.’

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