World Autism Awareness Week.
6 April 2016
Tech entrepreneur and founder of autism research charity Autistica Dame Stephanie Shirley joined Samuel, a 7 year old autistic boy today, to open the stock market and ring the bell for autism research. He is the youngest person to ever open the market. Samuel was diagnosed with autism aged 3. He is a happy and bright boy but his communication difficulties mean that everyday life is extremely challenging, and he will require a lifetime of support. It is hoped that this ceremony for World Autism Awareness Week can draw attention to the need for increased understanding of this complex condition from diagnosis right through to old age.
Samuel is typical of thousands of children who have autism: he started life as a happy toddler who reached all major developmental milestones, but aged 2, his behaviour changed and the little speech and skills that he had began to disappear. His parents Katie and William fought hard for an early diagnosis, and feel strongly that more research is needed to give families the help that they need as early as possible.
Samuel’s mother Katie said:
“The earlier parents get a diagnosis, the sooner they can start educating themselves, seeking support, and adapting the ways that they care for their child with autism.”
“Early diagnosis and support is just one part of why I think Autistica’s research is so important. People forget that autism is a lifelong condition and I worry about the future for Samuel. I worry about when he starts to be aware that he is different, and I worry about when we are no longer around to support him.”
Katie was keen for Samuel to take part but explains that for him, it was a challenging experience:
“We worked hard with Samuel to prepare him for today so that he knew what to expect. He struggles with strange people and places, bright lights and music, all of which are a big part of the ceremony but the Stock Exchange kindly made some allowances to make him feel comfortable.”
“We can never predict how he will react in new situations. It is crucial though that we support him to do things like this that he can be proud of, and important that people see the real challenges that autism can present.”
Jon Spiers, Chief Executive of Autistica, the charity that organised the opening with the LSE, said:
“We were thrilled to be given this opportunity to highlight the need for autism research, which remains one of the most underfunded areas of medical research. We are very grateful to Samuel and his parents for representing Autistica at this prestigious and iconic ceremony.”
Dame Stephanie Shirley, who founded Autistica in 2004, had a son with autism and feels passionately that research is key in providing better support for those with the condition:
“I made my fortune in business, and it is an honour to be back here today so many years later to talk about the subject that is dearest to my heart. I have given the majority of my wealth away to fund autism projects. Although we have made some progress, there is still so much we don’t know about autism and how to best support those like my late son Giles. We need the government and funders to realise that research is key to really make a long and lasting difference to people’s lives.”
Diane Côté, Chief Risk Officer, London Stock Exchange Group, said:
“We were delighted to welcome Autistica, to London Stock Exchange to open the London market and raise awareness of autism during World Autism Awareness Week. Autistica is an inspirational charity, campaigning for medical research to understand the causes of autism, improve diagnosis, and develop new treatments and interventions, making a real difference to the lives of those living with autism.”