Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

Week 8: Reflecting back, looking forward


This week you will think about what you have learned so far, where we are today with our understanding of autism and what the future might hold. Attitudes to and provision for autism are changing, although at different rates across the globe. You will reflect on the changes in countries such as the UK, and consider priorities and challenges for the future, including for lower and middle income countries (LMICs), with a special focus on Ethiopia.

Now watch the video in which Dr Ilona Roth introduces this week’s work:

Download this video clip.Video player: boc_aut_1_video_week8_intro.mp4
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This final week of the course is your chance both to reflect on what you've learned so far and to think about up and coming issues in the autism field. Among all that you've learned, I'm sure you've been struck by how differently autism can affect people. In fact, some people like to quip that if you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.
Of course, the autism spectrum model does recognise this variation, yet debate continues. On the one hand, autism is viewed as a clinically definable condition, and on the other as part of natural human diversity. Michael Baron, who also featured in earlier weeks, worries that this neurodiversity perspective overlooks how seriously some people, like his son Timothy, are affected.
Another controversial issue is the future priorities for autism research. Respondents to a recent survey thought that theoretical research, as featured in week four, should take much lower priority for funding than research into practical interventions and support. Yet in an ideal scenario, explaining the fundamental basis of autism should translate into practical interventions for those who need them.
How well is autism understood and accommodated in society? Media portrayals in films, television, and so on have certainly helped to increase public awareness, but have also tended to represent specially gifted individuals. Accommodations for autism in society have begun to improve with the various autism-friendly initiatives that are underway.
Finally, this week looks again at the global context. In such a short course, it sadly hasn't been possible to compare autism approaches and services across multiple countries. I hope, however, that looking briefly at a less well-resourced country like Ethiopia highlights not only stark disparities in provision, but also the common challenges facing people with autism worldwide. An Ethiopian project on which I had the privilege to work contributed knowledge and skills developed in the UK, but the knowledge flow was by no means one way. The team learned much from their Ethiopian colleagues.
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By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • evaluate how your own knowledge and understanding has increased while studying this course
  • appreciate both shared problems and differences in the lived experience and needs of autistic people
  • discuss trends and priorities in autism research and support
  • identify wider societal issues that affect the lives of those with autism and their families
  • understand some of the priorities for autism in low resource settings.

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