With Autism I'm a Different Person Inside - It's as Though I'm Looking at Life out of a Window; CHARLIE AGAR AIMS TO TRAIN, EDUCATE AND MAKE PEOPLE MORE UNDERSTANDING OF HER DISABILITY

Article excerpt

Byline: NIGEL HART

IT IS Autism Awareness Week. Although many of us have heard about the condition, how many of us actually know what it means? Education Reporter NIGEL HART spoke to one family who have had to learn to live with autism.

FRUSTRATION is the word that autism sufferers and their families know only too well.

Charlie Agar was not diagnosed with autism until she was at secondary school.

All through her life at primary school she was labelled as a problem- child, a trouble-maker and a disruptive influence.

The now 15-year-old remembers: "I would go to school, get into trouble, get shouted out and sent out of the classroom. I really hated it."

To look at, Charlie is a normal, every-day teenager conscious of her looks, fashion and clothes.

But that is the trouble with autism. It is not disability you can physically see.

"Being me is not as straight-forward as you think," says Charlie who takes her exams for her five GCSEs next week.

"Because someone looks normal, it does not mean that they are. They maybe deaf, have learning difficulties or behavioural problems.

"But everything is not always what it seems and it is the same with autism or any other disorder.

"With me I am a different person inside. What I mean is that there is a whole different side or person to me."

She added: "I am Charlie but in me I am a whole new person, all the time experiencing things I can't describe or understand.

"It is though I am always looking out of a window, or an onlooker looking in on myself."

Things are a lot different when you suffer from autism, or autism spectrum disorder as it is sometimes referred.

Only instructions or information that are specific and precise can be understood. It causes frustration, at not being able to get their feeling across and therefore not being understood.

Sarcasm, idioms and metaphors will almost certainly be misunderstood. Taking people at face value mean that many autistic sufferers are naive and easily-led. It explains why they are often in trouble and prone to bullying.

Margaret Agar has looked after her daughter all of her life. Sitting in her home on the outskirts of Coventry, she admits that it is a 24-hour job.

"At primary school I knew that something was wrong with Charlie, as she was falling behind and getting into trouble," the 54-year-old said.

"I had to help her reading and writing and she was not making friends but no one seemed to know what was going on.

"Much later she was diagnosed as suffering from autism and I just thought, what on earth is that?

"Back then very few people had heard of it. Even now, there is little information that is in plain, simple English and even after all these years, it is still misunderstood.

"We have to suffer it everyday, from the police to shopkeepers. Even some members of my family believe Charlie is just a trouble-maker and hides behind autism to get her out of a sticky wicket."

Although not statemented, unlike many local authorities, Coventry allows Charlie help from the Coventry Autism Support Service.

Jo Tasker, head of the service, said: "There is still more to learn and a long way to go in educating the general public and those who work in the public arena.

"More and more children, young people and adults are being diagnosed with autism and it is important that services are working together and society becomes better adapted to support them. Understanding autism is the key."

Charlie is determined to do her bit in the battle. She has already given talks about her experiences at autism conferences and plans to write a book on autism.

"Autism affects my life in everything I do and makes my life difficult, and for those around me," she said. …