Yesterday we attended the launch of Sense’s report for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness. Their research found that over half of disabled people (53 per cent) say they feel lonely, which rises to 77 per cent for young disabled people. In this blog Scope storyteller and autism advocate, Carly Jones, shares her experiences and ideas for change.
I was really honoured to be invited by Scope to come to this event. As Jo Cox so eloquently put it when she was alive, you think of loneliness and you think of older people, we don’t think of children and young adults. But I know from my personal experience, and the autistic community as a whole, that we are extremely isolated.
My experiences of loneliness
I didn’t get my autism diagnosis until I was 32. You can read more about it in my last blog for Scope. I remember feeling very different at school. I was really anxious. I started realising that I never got invited to birthday parties. I was pretty aware by the time I was in my late 20s that I was autistic, but without a diagnosis it was like being in “no man’s land”.
When I finally got my diagnosis, I filmed it with the help of the National Autistic Society so that no-one else would have to go through this alone, because I felt so alone.
Getting my diagnosis changed things for the better because I could start going to autistic events without feeling like a fraud. My advocacy work has really helped me find people who understand disability or other autistic people who just get it because they’re autistic too, and you can become friends. So my advocacy work has actually been my social life line. People say “Oh you’re so selfless” and I’m like “No, doing this helps me get out of the house and meet people too!”
Three ideas to address loneliness in disabled people
Better representation in the media: If there’s an autistic person on TV usually it’s a boy who’s about 8-years-old and into trains! It’s really not helping. It’s isolating the thousands of autistic women and girls in the UK who are struggling to have their needs met in everyday society. We need a autistic girl in a big show like Eastenders, who has challenges but strong and sassy.
The education system needs to improve: Schools need to be more holistic in their approach to difference and really nurture talent. You get awards for being good at maths but what about the artists, the philosophers, the big thinkers, the social entrepreneurs?
I had a really difficult time at school because I struggled with the environment, but teachers just thought I was being naughty. When your needs are not being met it can lead to mental health problems and vulnerability. A lot of the children who come to the events are home educated because they’re not “autistic enough” for a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school but they can’t get the support they need in mainstream school. That can be incredibly isolating too.
More social opportunities: I run a bi-weekly group for young autistic people. The stereotype is that we never get invited to things so, with the events that I put on, we go to some really cool places and they can invite whoever they like – autistic, disabled, non-disabled. Hopefully their friends will then grow up not seeing autism as this stigmatised thing but thinking “I had an autistic friend in school and we did some really cool things”.
Adults need better groups too. Sometimes you’ll see events for autistic adults and it’s just basically what you would have for a child but for an older audience. You know, we are cool, quite cool and we are adults in our own right and we are responsible people. I think if there were more clubs – which are affordable – there would be more opportunities to meet people.
We all want to be a part of society don’t we?
It was fantastic to be at this event. I’ve already got so many emails in my mind that I want to send! Everybody genuinely wanted to hear other people’s stories. The fact that it’s cross party, cross charity, working together, is really fantastic. We all want to be a part of society don’t we? As someone said, it’s not a 10 year solution, it’s more like 40 year solution, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there.
From 10 July to 13 August, Sense will be leading a coalition of disability organisations, including Scope, to shine a spotlight on the issue of loneliness for disabled people and the steps that we can all take to help tackle it. Head to the website to find out how you can get involved.
If you have a story you would like to share, get in touch with Scope’s stories team.