My name is Freya-Raine and I am an Autism Specialist, Disability Advisor at Manchester Metropolitan University.
I grew up in Sale in Trafford and have a younger sister called Ren. We are completely different but we’re best mates – they say opposites attract! I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue a career in the world of care, support and educational needs.
One of my first ever paid jobs was looking after two young boys with Down Syndrome and a young girl with autism when I was just 16 years old.
I chose to study a degree in Psychology at MMU. I lived at home; working part time and helped a lot in the family home, with my younger sister.
I started working at the National Autistic Society as a support worker whilst I was studying, and focussed on Autism for my dissertation, so when I graduated, I was eager to take a full-time position there.
My career has always been supporting children and adults with Autism and their families; and as my experience grew, I was able to progress my career within the field of autism.
I got a lot of experience working in different settings from supporting young people and adults across age ranges; these included: SEN schools, Outreach services in the community, hospitals, residential care homes, supported living tenancies, day services, enterprise services, social groups, social skills groups, siblings and Lego groups, in the workplace and in universities.
What is Autism?
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how people see the world and interact with others. Autistic people often do not ‘look’ disabled, therefore, Autism can sometimes be referred to as a hidden or invisible disability.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Moreover, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be tougher.
Most people seem to know, instinctively, how to communicate and interact with each other. Autistic people can sometimes question why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean other people don’t always understand them.
Autism often isn’t diagnosed until a child has passed their developmental milestones in early childhood.
It isn’t uncommon for adults to be diagnosed much later in their lives too.
When an individual is diagnosed with autism, people are diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, which means all autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic affects everyone uniquely. Some autistic people might also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, essentially people’s varying needs will require different levels of support.
Anxiety disorders are very common amongst people on the spectrum. The NAS report 40% of people have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder at any time, compared with up to 15% in the general population.
Raising Autism Awareness
There is no ‘cure’ for autism, but there are different strategies and approaches that can be helpful.
It’s important to add that where one approach might work for one person, it might not work for another person – there isn’t a one size fits all approach.
Approaches and strategies may be based on aspects of Autism, such as adopting structure and routine can help make day to day activities more accessible and predictable. Other common approaches might include visual support, social stories, exploring sensory experiences and environments.
There are some people who may not be able to communicate verbally, which makes non-verbal forms of communication crucial to ensure a person can communicate their wants, needs and wishes.
The NAS reports in the UK that around 700,000 people may be autistic, which is roughly 1 in 100 of the population. Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, and only 32% are in paid work.
Many of us may find ourselves getting lost for hours in something we enjoy (perhaps more so during the current lockdown restrictions we find ourselves in!), such as a hobby and interest -and this can be particularly important for an autistic person too, as this can help a person self soothe as a coping strategy during periods of anxiety. Many people on the spectrum can achieve great success in their fields of interest.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is said to credit his autism with his unique ability to deconstruct characters from his acting career. Greta Thunberg who is standing up for the world with climate strikes for change has responded to critics calling it her ‘super power’; she’s a very inspirational speaker if you haven’t seen her talks.
In my role as a Disability Advisor, specialising in autism, I meet with students who have formally disclosed their condition on their UCAS form or once they’re enrolled.
I meet with each student to create their personal learning plan, where I can make any reasonable adjustments to the way in which students are taught and/or assessed and explain the other types of support available at MMU and through applying for Disabled Students Allowances.
I’ve been in post over a year now. We get busy over the summer period meeting with prospective students; awareness is certainly growing which is fantastic news. This in turn has led to academic and campus wide staff becoming much more aware too and attending Autism Awareness Training that I deliver.
We really need to be more accessible and inclusive as a society; creating environments that are more autism friendly. I continue to work closely with other people within the field of Autism in Greater Manchester, in line with the Greater Manchester Autism Strategy in relation to Transition to Adulthood to share good practice and contribute to resources for university students.
Part of the Autism strategy includes public facing places such as supermarkets, museums and cinemas offering autism friendly times, with a lower volume/quieter times which people can access more comfortably.
The future for me is to continue building on making Manchester Metropolitan University more autism friendly, raising awareness and supporting individuals to reach their potential.
Celebrate individuality and diversity
My top signposting tip would be to contact the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium for all the latest information, courses, getting a diagnosis, support groups and what’s happening locally in Manchester.
My message is:
Everyone is different and we should celebrate that fact. Wouldn’t the world be a really boring place if we were all cardboard cut-outs and the same? It’s time to celebrate our diversity and strengths. Some of humanity’s best work is in times of reflection and creativity.