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"Awareness Days" really help change our perceptions by Dorothy Jarvis-Lee

This week we see the celebration of World Autism Awareness Week which is marked and celebrated globally in a variety of ways. Illustrating beautifully how diverse and rich the autism ‘neurotribe’ has become.

Optimistically I want to say that the “neurotypical” perception by so-called typical people of this behaviour, and way of life has, become a little clearer. I want to hope that the acceptance of ‘difference’ is receiving more tolerance and that people have become more conscious and aware that each of us has a place in society and a right to enjoy full citizenship.

Whatever our ability and background is, we should all have the same opportunities to reach the goals we choose. This is ubu’s core philosophy and one that we are passionate to “stand up alongside” the people we serve to achieve.

Throughout the year a variety of support organisations of all types of services promote awareness days, weeks or even months to bring specific ‘conditions’ to the attention of the more general public.

One example is coming up in May this year. The Mental Health Foundation is sponsoring Mental Health Awareness Week with a campaign aimed at raising awareness of “Body image and how we see ourselves and how that makes us feel”. It’s launderable and relevant to each of us in our work places and those we support, and those we work alongside.

But I find myself wondering who actually pays attention to these awareness events? What effect do they have? Do they change the way most people understand mental health and wellness? Ultimately do awareness days have an effect on attitudes and do they change the way we each behave when we meet and interact with people living with mental health problems, learning difficulties and complex behaviours?

Jonathan Purtle, a mental health policy and services researcher at Drexel University in Philadelphia made a rather bold statement recently.

“Things don't change just because of awareness daysIt’s part of the culture we live in now. It’s a way for people to participate. It creates a sense of a community…people like to be part of something…something that is bigger than themselves. It’s free, it makes you happy, it makes you feel like you're doing something.”

But is that enough though?

Throughout ubu all managers have already been trained and coached in the techniques to work with specific behaviours and reduce the stressful impact they can have on others. Including; Autism Awareness Training, Management of Actual or Potential Aggression (known as MAPA) and Positive Stress Support, sometimes called positive behavioural techniques. This proves invaluable every single day. Aiding each person to become who they really could be rather than abandoning them to the ‘prison’ of only accepting them for who they are now.

I believe that this approach demonstrates a fundamental difference in the way we approach awareness within ubu.

We acknowledge though that awareness campaigns are incredibly valuable vehicles for starting conversations, especially with young people looking for rewarding careers, people looking for a new direction in work and an older generation who may have more time to share their skills and knowledge to support other to lead fulfilling, realistic and truly meaningful lives.

Awareness days are a great opportunity for us all to share the incredible successes and the issues faced by people to a wider public. It is an important opportunity for us all to gain the understanding and activity engage in even more innovative ways.

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