What Autism Has Taught Me

A campaign by Inspire Foundation

Thursday, 1st April 2021

Inspire Foundation will be launching the campaign “What Autism Has Taught Me” intending to raise more awareness about autism among the public.

The campaign will run throughout April, in line with World Autism Awareness Day which is celebrated on the 2nd of April. During this month, the Foundation will be disseminating information about Autism from different perspectives – that of the individuals on the spectrum, the parents, and the professionals. This will be done through content disseminated on digital platforms and shared with key stakeholders. The Foundation will also reach out to private companies, providing them with information on how to better support adults on the autism spectrum and ensure an inclusive work environment.

Worldwide it is estimated that one in 54 children are diagnosed with autism, a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviours, which are exacerbated in inaccessible environments. The effects of autism and the intensity of symptoms are different in each person, with some being more profoundly affected, having an impact on their ability to carry out day to day tasks, whilst others may be more well-adjusted, independent and in employment but still, find social situations, especially when others fail to meet them halfway, challenging.

At present, Inspire Foundation provides support to 155 persons on the autism spectrum. The organisation operates through a transdisciplinary team of professionals that address the educational, therapeutic, social and recreational needs of persons with disabilities, focusing on their ability and potential, and promoting and facilitating their independence and participation in society. Inspire’s STEP Intensive Early Intervention Programme and therapeutic services are accredited by the National Autistic Society (UK), with the therapeutic services having obtained Advanced Accreditation status.

Research has shown that early diagnosis and intervention for autism is important because it has been found to have a significant impact on the long-term development of skills such as communication, self-regulation, socialization and the ability to manage day-to-day tasks for example.

Inspire Foundation also provides support and empowerment training services to parents of children on the autism spectrum, providing them with advice and guidance throughout their child’s development. Support is provided through parent groups, individual family meetings, educational & psychoeducational workshops and parent and child activities.

At the end of 2020, Inspire Foundation, in collaboration with The University of Bath (UK) and Epic, launched a mobile application targeted to support those on the autism spectrum. The Stories Online for Autism (SOFA) application, which is free for all to download, helps to reduce anxiety in persons on the autism spectrum through social stories, which help to understand what is expected in certain situations.

“With the number of children being diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum – which is a life-long condition, fast increasing around the world, there is a significant chance that we all know of someone who is on the spectrum, and so it is essential that we understand how it impacts on the lives of those living with the condition, their families, friends and work colleagues. The more aware we become, the more empathetic we can be towards the struggles being faced and the more able we are to support, be kinder and accepting of each other’s differences. With small changes and adaptations in how we approach someone who is autistic and may be struggling to communicate, socialise or cope with sensory overload, we can make all the difference in their being able to succeed, integrate and live a fulfilling life,” commented Paula Doumanov, Chief Services Officer at Inspire Foundation.

The campaign is being held with the input of the Autism Advisory Council and supported by the Ministry of Inclusion and Social Wellbeing.

Dr Alistair de Gaetano, Chairperson of the Autism Advisory Council, stated that “Inspire’s efforts in organising the ‘What Autism Has Taught Me’ Campaign are very welcome, as awareness is the first step towards breaking stereotypes and fostering more inclusion. Only this way can we really reach the goals of acceptance and empowerment of autistic people in Malta, as embodied in the 2016 law, and in the National Autism Strategy, launched for public consultation on the 30th of March. The Council was glad that members of its Autistic Persons’ Working Group participated in a number of awareness-raising initiatives as part of this campaign, so that people out there can start to see for themselves the variety on the autism spectrum, and understand that autistic people are not merely the sum of their deficits, but can also thrive should society also play its part.”

Julia Farrugia Portelli, Minister for Inclusion and Social Wellbeing explained how no society can be a healthy society if it is not an inclusive one. “We believe that this step can only be achieved by talking about different abilities and disabilities as a country. This campaign will help us to understand each other better as a society. The Inspire campaign links to the public consultation launched by the Government earlier this week, through which as a country we will be sending a strong message in favour of the inclusion of people with autism, from birth and will continue to support them even at different stages of their lives, including in the workplace, when they become adults and later as seniors,” stressed Minister Farrugia Portelli.

For more information, visit www.inspire.org.mt/autismawareness