World Autism Awareness Week

The following article was originally published in the North Wales Weekly News newspaper on 4 May 2016.
Last Thursday, the House of Commons held a debate to mark World Autism Awareness Week.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact with others.  It is a spectrum condition, meaning that, while some who are affected can function at a high level with few signs of autism, others are severely disabled. A quarter are unable to speak and approximately 85 per cent do not work full time.
Autism was not formally identified until the 1940s, and our knowledge of the condition has developed slowly.  In 1970, an American study concluded that one child in 14,000 was autistic. However, more recent US studies have indicated that one child in 68 has some form of autism.
In Britain, it is estimated that more than 600,000 people, or one per cent of the population, are affected by autism.  This has an economic, as well as a human, cost.  A study by the London School of Economics in 2014 estimated the cost of autism to the British economy at £32.1 billion per annum.
Putting this into perspective, the economic cost of cancer is approximately £12 billion per annum, heart disease £8 billion, and stroke £5 billion. So the cost of autism to the economy is very large indeed.
If, however, we could have greater awareness and more understanding of the condition, we might realise that people with autism are a very under-utilised resource.  It would be highly beneficial both to  the national economy and to people with autism if more could be done to help place them in work.
Studies show that people with autism can be excellent workers. However, employers may need to make changes to the work environment to accommodate them. People with autism often benefit, for example, from quieter working conditions; the sound of a telephone or conversational chatter can sometimes prove distracting, to the point of being barely endurable.
Autism Awareness Week provides an annual opportunity for us all to try to gain more understanding of a condition that very probably affects our own families and friends, often without anyone knowing.

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