The health minister’s brother says there is a vacuum of information around autism and a national conversation about it is needed.
Adam Harris, 21, CEO of AsIam, an autism charity, has launched an interactive exhibition allowing a person to experience what it is like to live on the spectrum.
“We need to flood people with information and have a national conversation on autism,” said Mr Harris, whose brother Simon is minister for health.
“We all have heard the word and awareness around autism has increased. We are aware of it, but we don’t understand it,” said Mr Harris.
Mr Harris said there are “huge barriers” for people with autism, citing UK statistics that show those on the spectrum are three times more likely to experience mental health problems, 50% are bullied at some point in their education, and 80% encounter unemployment.
“There’s no better way to teach people than to give them the experience. We developed this pop-up exhibition, the ‘Experience Autism’ exhibition, where visitors get the practical experience of autism through activities using sound, smells, touch, and sight experiments,” said Mr Harris.
In explaining what autism feels like, the campaigner likened it to being transported to a train station in Tokyo.
“You’re trying to cope with this new sensory environment, it’s totally overwhelming, it’s like living in a world that wasn’t built for you. People with autism need to actually learn body language and cues, and it’s hard to give people rules for communication, people with autism struggle with context, it’s called context blindness,” he explained.
Mr Harris was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was five-years-old and went between special and mainstream schools until he was 13. He did not feel comfortable socialising until he was 16.
“Even though I was outgoing, I found it hard to socialise, I didn’t really go out, transition year gave me structured socialising,” he explained.
The exhibition travels around Ireland from June 27, starting in Co Wicklow. Venues can apply to host it and all details can be found on asiam.ie.
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