AUTISM is one of those conditions which still has a certain amount of stigma attached.
Children on the autism spectrum are simply seen by many as ‘naughty’, and their ‘odd’ behaviour receives little sympathy from some members of society.
Parents of autistic children at Elmsleigh Infant School are no strangers to the raised eyebrows and tutting which accompany trips out – but that does not make it easier.
“You can’t get babysitters, or go out to play areas or even to the supermarket. It’s hard to do anything which people normally take for granted.
“You don’t want to go out, because people look, and comment.
“People just think you have a naughty child and you can’t control them. You have to grow a very thick skin,” said Julie Barker, whose son Cayden was diagnosed with the condition 18 months ago.
What does help, they said, is having the support of people who understand what they are going through – and facilities which cater for the needs of their children.
At Elmsleigh, that is exactly what they have. The Rainbow Room is a specially adapted classroom which caters for the very different needs of each child with autism.
Pupils who have difficulty dealing with mainstream lessons because of their condition can use the room either part time or full time, where they have the benefit of an education which is more tailored to them.
But there is now a movement to improve the facilities, and provide a specially-equipped garden for the pupils there.
Lyn Blackman, whose sons Christopher and Thomas are both autistic, is one of the parents behind the plan.
“The children need to play just like any other child. It’s just in a different way, so they need to have that special environment to let them do that,” she told the Mail.
She and other parents at the school have ambitious plans for the space, which is not currently suitable for all the children.
Eventually, they want to create a complete sensory facility, with play equipment which is suitable for all children.
Jenny Guest, special educational needs teacher at Elmsleigh, said: “Our children with autism help to make Elmsleigh the very special place it is, and it is a privilege to work together to provide a more peaceful environment for their learning. We want to make the Rainbow outdoor learning area a richer, more wonderful place to be.”
The project will cost around £15,000 in total.
Fund-raising has already started for phase one, which is laying Astroturf and tidying up the area.
The steering group has already received some donations towards the scheme, but fund-raising will begin in earnest with the Light it up Blue day today, which is taking place tomorrow to mark World Autism Awareness Day.
All the children at the school will donate money to wear blue, and all proceeds will go to the outdoor area. Parents hope it will also help people learn about the condition.
Beverley Gleeson, whose daughter Holly is autistic, said: “There needs to be more awareness, because it’s hard.
“Every day is new and parents need support.”
For some parents of children with autism, the battle begins well before they have been diagnosed.
Teresa Fowkes’ children are now seven and eight, but she is still waiting for doctors to officially diagnose them as suffering with autism spectrum disorder.
Elliot, 8, and his little sister Emily, both suffer with attention deficit disorder and have serious speech and language issue. All the evidence points towards the siblings being autistic, but the rubber stamp has not yet been given.
The mum-of-four has lost her sight as a result of the stress.
“It’s just coming through now, but I’m not getting the support I should be getting. Now, with being blind as well, it’s so difficult,” she added.
Catherine Speight’s son Zak, 8, has been diagnosed with ADHD and learning difficulties, but is still awaiting an autism diagnosis.
She said: “I had never dealt with autism, so I didn’t know anything was wrong when he was little. We just thought Zak was eccentric. It wasn’t until he was at school that he started becoming very aggressive towards the teachers that I thought there was a problem.”
He is now less aggressive, she said, because he is getting the help he needs.
Autism is a condition which affects the way people perceive the world around them, leading to high anxiety, irritation and confusion, which can create difficulty in everyday life. The parents who spoke to the Mail said it was impossible to know how their child would react to new things in the world around them.
One told the Mail: “You have to live for the day. It’s the only way you can be when you have a child who has such a disability.”