World Autism Awareness Week starts on Monday.
The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly tough for many autistic people and their families in the UK.
Services have closed and many people have been left stranded.
The ever-changing guidelines and restrictions can be confusing to understand and extremely difficult to implement for autistic people with high support needs.
The National Autistic Society has been able to campaign to ensure autistic people’s needs are taken into account by governments across the UK in these challenging times.
Autistic people have been included in mask exemptions and have been given more opportunities to exercise.
The NAS developed online resources for autistic people and increased the number of online social groups they run – but they still need lots more help to ensure their good work continues.
One of the best-known campaigners for Autism in North Wales is ANDREW EDWARDS, of Gwersyllt, near Wrexham.
Andrew, who is autistic, is a three-time published author, including his 2015 memoir “I’ve Got a Stat For You – My Life with Autism”
An assistant archivist at Brymbo Heritage Trust from Spring 2021, officer for diversity at Chirk Cricket Club and a non-profit autistic public speaker, Andrew was also Manchester United Television Broadcast Statistician between 2002-2014.
Andrew spoke to Grassroots North Wales ahead of World Autism Awareness Week (Mar 29 – Apr 4).
Will you be doing anything personally to mark World Autism Awareness Week?
I will be trying to give, or attempt to secure, as many media interviews as possible.
I have one set to go onto The Cricketer Magazine Online, which is probably the second most popular specialist cricket website in the UK, and I am trying but not getting particularly anywhere currently with other mainstream outlets with emails I have sent over the last month. Hopefully, the actual week will attract interest to me.
How vital is it that Autism has its own world awareness week?
I think that it is more vital that society has the awareness, and hopefully understand as much as possible as autism isn’t an easy condition to always fathom, all year round. It is a bit like the saying “something is for life, not just for Christmas.”
Awareness weeks are all well and good but after a while it can become like a lyric from my favourite band Half Man Half Biscuit about there “being an awareness week for awareness weeks.”
It needs to be all year long as autism is a lifelong condition not just in childhood, which is a bugbear for me and was for my recently departed beloved Ma, or for one week.
Would you say we, in the UK, have enough understanding of Autism, or is this an area with much room for improvement, both as a society and in relation to the government?
There is a lot more awareness but not necessarily understanding.
The public services, which were initially designed to help those with autism and other disabilities, are all about financial budgets rather than supporting those with the conditions.
A lot of these services, which were formerly provided by the public sector, are now the domain of specialist autism charities in the third sector. Nonetheless, these are swayed towards those who are much younger, be it due to funding or numbers accessing services, whilst adults don’t usually receive the help they need.
I firmly believe that there are far more people living with autism in the UK who are undiagnosed than the estimated 700,000 actually with a confirmed diagnosis.
This is particularly said to be prevalent in girls, who mask or mimic their behaviours to try to fit.
A lot of these might be adult women, who ostensibly lead seemingly routine lives with jobs and even families, but may never have quite fitted in. I was told once by someone just diagnosed that the diagnosis criteria is heavily tailored to males.
How does a family member with Autism affect the rest of the family? It surely affects every aspect of family life?
It does indeed. The family’s life has to revolve around providing support from trying to gain a good education to the rest of the autistic person’s needs, which doesn’t stop when they reach adulthood. It is lifelong. It can be long and arduous but there will undoubtedly be rewards.
How does the Welsh Government’s announcement last Friday regarding the probable reopening of gyms and organised activities for up to 30 people from April 22nd affect you? You must welcome this news…..
I do indeed, Dave. However, as I type this on Friday 26th March, it seems so long away though.
I have felt more fatigue with lockdown since England’s announcement of a roadmap out of lockdown on February 22nd.
Since then, although my political beliefs swing heavily towards Labour, I have felt exasperated by First Minister Mark Drakeford. I have dubbed him a “Job’s Comforter”. This is despite my devout atheism!
Nonetheless, the longer term prognosis looks better. I had the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine along with sister Melanie Beckley on March 5th. My niece, Chloë Beckley, and my brother-in-law Billy have had both doses due to their jobs.
It feels like a brighter tomorrow is hopefully emerging first with the on time start of the cricket season for Welsh clubs and then at the same time NumberOneHSP gym. Summer promises to be better, especially with trips to Manchester without social distancing.
I’m hoping to meet up after June 21st with some close mates I met at Manchester United Television that I haven’t been able to see during the pandemic. I have been in regular contact with them by phone and What’s App though, but it isn’t the same of course.
How are preparations going for the new cricket season? Will the gyms reopening help in regard to fitness? Are you hopeful of a more ‘normal’ season this year? When does it all start for Chirk 1sts and 2nds?
I undertake my fitness work (Strength & Conditioning and running) for separate reasons to my cricket. Nonetheless, I feel that it undoubtedly helps my mobility around the field. Cricket skills are a different matter (which I don’t possess).
Regarding my daily fitness work, I am very fortunate that my sister Melanie redeveloped her garage next door into a gym during lockdown the first. We christened it Mel’s HSP Gym after NumberOneHSP! The reopening of NumberOneHSP on April 26th undoubtedly will be an enormous help to my routine.
Chirk Firsts start on Saturday 24th April at home to St George’s at The AAA’s, Holyhead Road in a Shropshire County Cricket League Division One Fixture. I will be going down to hand out the black armbands that the club have kindly paid for in memory of my beloved Ma. It will be wonderful to see more of my club mates.
My season in the Seconds begins on Saturday 8th May away to Cae Glas at Gatacre in a Shropshire County Cricket League Division Seven fixture. We are well acquainted with them as we played them in the last game of the 2020 season.
What are your aims for the 2021 cricket season?
Just to help in any way I can whilst spending time with my club mates. I really want to help in my new role at Chirk Cricket Club as Volunteer Officer for Diversity by engaging more people to help the club become sustainable for future generations. I want more people to find out and others to share in how the club has been so inclusive to myself.
Please tell us about what’s planned to celebrate the life of your late mother in the weeks ahead
We are having a plaque on Ma’s favourite bench in Wepre Park, Connah’s Quay, where she accompanied me to volunteer. We are planning on having an unveiling after the abolition of Social Distancing in early-mid summer.
We are planning to have a Commemorative Evening sometime in October at Brymbo Sports & Social Club with everyone Ma loved, respected, cherished and liked.
We hope to have some of those get up and regale us with their personal memories of Ma whilst many others will also be read out.
We are planning to raise a few pounds on the night in question for the autism charity Your Space by having a collection.
Chirk Cricket Club have been so kind to pay for black armbands and for a plaque whilst naming the nets in her memory. They even addressed a condolence card to my sister Melanie, even though they haven’t ever met her.
Ma really appreciated the kindness of all my club mates at Chirk Cricket Club, especially my captain Ian Skinner. The break she used to get every Saturday in the warmer months for the last three years of her life that Chirk provided Ma with helped her get her jobs done whilst giving her an emotional break from me.
She knew I was/am so safe with Chirk Cricket Club that it gave her peace of mind. This can’t be underestimated.
If you were asked to give some good reasons why people should take notice of World Autism Awareness Week, what would they be?
Hopefully it would act as an initial introduction to autism. However, the condition requires year round awareness raising as it is lifelong.