Amaze challenges educators and others to Change their Reactions to Autism

by Freya Lucas

February 16, 2020

Everyday life is lonely and isolating for more than half of Australian children and families living with autism spectrum disorder, and 40 per cent of those surveyed said they sometimes struggle to leave the house because they’re concerned about being subjected to discriminatory or negative behaviours in the community. 


Research from Amaze, founded in 1967 by a group of parents who were struggling to find help and support in living with autism, found that while 85 per cent of Australians know someone with autism, only 29 per cent know how to support an autistic person, revealing a significant gap between the community being aware of autism and creating an autism-friendly community. 


Sadder still, only 4 per cent of those individuals living with autism who participated in the survey felt that others knew how to support and include them. 


From this space of need, Amaze has today announced an Australian first public education campaign, Change Your Reactions seeking to bridge this gap. The focus of the campaign is simply – each Australian can take steps to building a more inclusive community that understands, accepts and positively engages with autistic people. 


Fiona Sharkie, Amaze CEO, noted the significance of the campaign, saying “there has never been a social behaviour change campaign to promote understanding and inclusion of autistic people in Australia.”


Ms Sharkie shared stories from the research, noting that many autistic people who participated in the research reported being treated harshly and judged unfairly by the public in the way they are described and how people react to them. 


“In fact,” she added, “53 per cent of autistic people said they have been described as ‘naughty’ and as many as 70 per cent have been described as ‘anxious’ while a staggering 81 per cent report having been stared at by people in public.”


Sadly, the issues don’t end there: 64 per cent of autistic Australians say people actively avoid them while 59 per cent have reported being described as ‘weird’. 


The extensive research and consultation done by Amaze for this campaign hopes to support all Australians to have a better understanding of how autistic people experience autism so others are less judgemental.


“That young boy you see in the supermarket becoming agitated at the check-out, his mother doing everything she can to stop the meltdown she knows is coming, doesn’t need you to stare or tell her that her child simply ‘needs discipline’. She needs your help,” Ms Sharkie said. 


Ultimately, she added, autistic people are not disabled by their autism but mostly by how others respond to it. 


“Our aim is for a better understanding of how autistic people experience autism so others are less judgemental. It’s about being curious, not critical,” Ms Sharkie said in closing. 


The campaign includes a mix of advertising across regional and metropolitan television, print, radio, digital and social media. Those interested in learning more about how they can change their reactions and pledge to support autistic people and their families in the community may access the campaign website here