Parents bid to dispel myths about autism

PARENTS of children with autism have spoken of their experiences in a bid to raise awareness and expel the stereotypes of the condition.


Autism Awareness. Jack McNeill with his mum Amanda and brother and sister Hannah and Ross at their home in Arundel SUS-140704-160804001
L14624H14 Autism Awareness. Jack McNeill with his mum Amanda and brother and sister Hannah and Ross at their home in Arundel SUS-140704-160804001

While many may think it is all about tantrums and ordered behaviour, those gathered at a conference in connection with World Autism Awareness Day were quick to tell a different tale.

And while there are a few classic traits, each child can present different characteristics.

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For Amanda McNeill, 45, of Arundel, she noticed her son Jack’s ‘odd behaviour’ at the age of two and a half was a cause for concern.

She said: “We went to mother and toddler group and he would just sit under the table and didn’t want to join in.

“I didn’t think we were getting anything out of it and stopped going as he 
was crying and getting distressed.

“When he went to nursery, he didn’t mix with the other children and we were coming out one day and he was speaking to me and one girl said to her mum, ‘Mummy, that boy does speak!”

Amanda spoke to another parent who had an autistic child and when researching Jack’s symptoms.

Those with autism can be overly active or very passive.

Amanda said that often people with autism were stereotyped as being all in the overactive category, throwing tantrums or ‘meltdowns’ regularly, but with Jack it was the opposite.

She said: “His meltdowns are not like screaming and shouting and he actually gets very anxious about everything and if he has a problem he won’t tell anyone. It might be trivial and something I can easily sort out but he will worry about 

Jack received an official diagnosis after a seven year struggle between his parents and medical officials.

Now, Amanda has used her experiences to volunteer for a number of organisations, to help others in the same situation, running coffee mornings for Autism Sussex and helping with West Sussex Parent Carer Forum.

She said: “I went to Parents for Autism and it was the best thing I have ever done. It was the first time I had felt accepted in a group.”

Another parent, Becky Simmons, 47, of Portland Road, Worthing, who has an 11 year old son with autism, noted it is sometimes life skills which are taken for granted which present problems.

She said: “Autism often presents itself as repetitive behaviour, repetitive speech, social and communication difficulties.

“But I am always surprised by how little my son can read facial expressions.

“If you think about it, that’s a huge thing that he is not able to do.”

Both parents, along with others, were attending the West Sussex County Council-organised autism conference at the Chatsworth Hotel, in Steyne Gardens, Worthing.

The event featured guest speakers, workshops and advice for those dealing with the condition.

They praised the council for helping to raise awareness, something which they both think should be done more.

Amanda said: “Jack can do everything normal children can do but sometimes you just have to do things a little bit differently.

“People with autism are normal human beings and have huge potential. Events like today give you hope for the future.”

Becky added: “There were lots of laughs this morning as people recognised different common symptoms and it has been good to meet up with other people in the same situation.

“I don’t think the public know a lot about autism but the perception is changing. It is a very complex condition and while there are common themes each child is different.”