Autism Awareness Week: It’s not just a ‘tantrum’

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Waiting in a queue, hearing a sudden noise, loud music, keys jangling, even the ticking of a clock can all be a mild frustration for some.

However, for those with autism that feeling can be significantly heightened to the point that it becomes unbearable.

Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in different ways, ranging from mild to severe.

Each person is affected differently. It’s not an illness and cannot be cured, but it impacts on how people perceive the world and interact with others. Reality can feel like a mass ball of confusion with people, places, objects, patterns and vibrant colours overloading the senses.

Autistic people can struggle with facial expressions, tone of voice or jokes and sarcasm, and they can find it difficult to express their emotions and recognise and understand feelings.

Autism is an individual experience and not all autistic people act the same way.

The National Autistic Society began a week-long campaign on Monday, hoping to raise awareness so that people can learn about the condition which affects 700,000 people in the UK.

Local groups have also attempted to highlight the issue, giving support to families.

The Waggy Dog Project run by Laura Docherty (43) and Sarah Nisbet (35) is in its infancy, but is already making an impact with 200 people coming along to their family fun day in March at the Winchburgh Community Centre.

Laura is a mother of four and her son Logan (4) has autism.

She said: “I think there should be more support and activities out there for families and for them to be accepted.

“Sometimes we’ve walked through the shopping centre with Logan and he would hit his limit.

“You could hear people tutting’ and staring. It used to upset us but now we sit along side him on the floor in the shops. Why should he be made to feel any different?”

Sarah, a business partner in the project, has autism in her family. She is a dog breeder and her Red Fox labradors Simba, Tia and Fern are training with the APPAWS charity to become therapy dogs for people with autism.

Logan also has one of Sarah’s dogs in training as an autism assistance dog through APPAWS. His dog, Gatsby, ­­helps relax and calm him down in environments that are stressful for him. This is where The Waggy Dog Project name comes from.

The project hopes to offer a family fun day each month with the next event pencilled in for Easter.

Laura said: “Holiday times can be a difficult time as schools are off and the children are out of their regular routine. It can be quite isolating for parents as family and friends don’t always understand the challenges and difficulties you face on a day to day basis.

“Places for the whole family that handle the unique needs of autistic children and their families are few and far between and The Waggy Dog Project aims to help change that.”

Another mum feels more support could be given and has set up another group. The first event was held in Linlithgow’s Black Bitch pub last month.

The next meeting takes place on Tuesday and there are plans for speakers to come along to the upcoming gatherings and give tips and advice on how to manage the condition.

Linda Ralph said: “I just decided to plan an event and put it on Facebook and see what happened and I’ve been totally surprised by the response.

“I am quite lucky as I have worked with adults with special needs. The idea is for families to come along and share, ideas and experiences. I hope to have a couple of speakers coming along to share their insight.”

Linlithgow and East Falkirk MP Martyn Day, said: “I met with Linda last weekend to hear all about the autism group she started.

“I am in the process of obtaining grant funding assistance for this group, which will enable them to provide both advice and coping strategies for individuals and their families.”

“Autism Awareness Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness and understanding of the condition. It also reminds us not to judge a parent whose child is having a ‘tantrum’ or an adult who does not say ‘hello’, they may not be ‘naughty’ or ‘rude’, they may just perceive and interact with the world in a different way.”