I didn’t know, before writing this post, that Dan Ackroyd of Ghostbusters fame has Asperger Syndrome. Same goes for Hot Fuzz actor Paddy Considine and possibly Darryl Hannah, the star of Splash. Sure, a lot of notable computer hackers also have Asperger’s, or fit elsewhere on the autistic spectrum, but then you’d expect that, they fit the stereotype, right?
I make no claims to be an expert in autism. I have experience of it – my stepson-to-be is autistic – but it’s known as a spectrum for a reason, covering a range of traits and experiences and diagnoses. It remains misunderstood; people have heard of it, through movies such as Rain Man (although ironically, the real life inspirations behind Dustin Hoffman’s character weren’t actually autistic); the media has inaugerated a stereotype of the socially awkward mathematical genius, which is a very limited understanding of things.
Enter Helen Green Allison, who passed away on 26 December, and I urge you to click on that link and read of her contribution to autism support. Born in America but adopting England following her involvement in the Secret Service during World War II, Allison became involved in supporting those with autism while trying to link with other parents to campaign for specialist schooling for their children. This campaigning lead to the foundation of the National Autistic Society (NAS), the leading UK charity for those with autism.
Allison’s contribution to awareness of, and provision for, Autistic Spectrum Disorders is immeasurable, and yet it’s vital that organisations such as NAS continue their work. The controversy over vaccines being responsible for autism still rages, here and in the States, to the point that the whole thing becomes ideological, and navigating that political minefield means that sometimes the needs of individuals are lost amid the name-calling and the screaming. Add to this government cuts that affect the most vulnerable in society and the need for Allison’s work to continue is clear.
To sum up, maybe the last word should go to a parent of a child who attends the Helen Allison School in Kent:
“The school is exceptional and has made a major difference to my child’s life.”
Not a bad legacy, is it?