To measure the success of our societies, we should examine how well those with different abilities, including persons with autism, are integrated as full and valued members.” So said Ban Ki-moon.

When we hear the term ‘autism’, our minds might immediately conjure up our own personal vision of a typical autistic person, perhaps drawing on recollections of autistic people as portrayed in the media. We all know, for example, that many autistic individuals have outstanding gifts.

Recently Derek Paravicini, a musical savant, performed at Abingdon House School while Adam Ockelford gave an inspiring talk on the journey the two of them had made. Reading Adam’s book In the Key of Genius I was struck by the immense difficulties that Derek faced, is facing and will continue to face for the rest of his life. Yet, despite these difficulties, this is an individual who is, by any standard, highly successful. Many autistic people face a long time of low-paid employment if they manage to get a job at all.

The scale and complexity of the issues raised in dealing with individuals with autism in our society are astounding. In the UK in 2016 there are around 700,000 people living with autism. A study by the London School of Economics estimates that autism costs the country at least £32 billion per year in treatment and lost earnings.

“With the right help, autistic children can learn good life skills”

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition. It will often dominate the life of an individual. With the correct help, many children will learn coping strategies and ways to deal with sensory issues. Despite this, many will experience failure in school, social and work situations. These failures lead to a lack of confidence, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and mental health issues.

Many people with autism are often very vulnerable to abuse because of their lack of social skills. Being taken advantage of and even bullied is not unusual. It is vitally important that individuals learn life skills and social communication skills in order to cope in society. Without these vital skills those with autism will become ever more isolated and marginalised.

Having a child with autism often has a profound effect on the lives of the immediate family. Caring for an autistic child or young adult can be a tremendous emotional, financial and physical strain.  Not knowing how best to help them can also take a toll on their siblings and wider family. For many families, at least one parent cannot work outside the home. Parents can become isolated and depressed themselves and many who do not receive adequate help will reach breaking point.

To parents who have an autistic child, I do not need to remind you that your child is unique and their potential will become increasingly evident to you over the years. However, you know better than anyone that life will be a constant series of challenges. I would encourage you to find professionals that you can trust and work in partnership with them. Also, seek out other parents who are travelling down a similar path, and talk to them frequently. Be sure to seek out the correct educational establishment for your child.

To others, who are not so directly involved, I simply ask you to care and to support those who you may know who are dealing more directly with autism.

Author Seth Godin says, “When enough people care about autism or diabetes or global warming, it helps everyone, even if only a tiny fraction actively participate”.