World Autism Day 2024 - JA Malta

JA Malta, and the wider JA Europe and JA Worldwide network, which we form part of, actively recognise the need to serve our community and elevate the underserved. One group which often falls by the wayside is people with autism, also known as people on the autism spectrum. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can make life more difficult than it already is, with communication issues, resistance to change, and inflexibility among the hallmark symptoms. Children growing up with this condition are far more likely to succeed if they are diagnosed, and receive the necessary support early on. ASD, as the name implies, exists on a spectrum, the lowest level of which, formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome, exhibits less severe or noticeable symptoms than other classifications.  

Some people only find out that they have ASD later on in life, which comes with its own challenges. Adults find it harder to adapt to new circumstances, especially if they are autistic, because not only will they have to adopt new behaviours, but their previous ones will have ingrained themselves over many years, rendering them even more intractable. 

People with autism often struggle through school, and working life doesn’t get much easier. Employment prospects and academic attainment can also be held back, compared to neurotypical peers. Some people with autism go under the radar, meaning they do not get the support they need, and are mistreated as a result, which further compounds their struggle. This invisible disability can have negative knock-on effects on mental health, such as anxiety and depression, which can then lead to physical health problems, such as obesity and substance abuse, and a host of comorbid health disorders. Autism deniers and sceptics add fuel to the fire. 

Neurodivergent individuals ought to be treated with respect, and accommodated accordingly, not sidelined and ignored. Shining a spotlight on their plight is one small thing we can do to support our peers on the spectrum. Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change – changing of minds, hearts and long-held attitudes.  

JA Malta’s mission is to instil the skill set and mindset needed to thrive and succeed in a global economy. People with autism need to learn the same skills – be they work readiness, entrepreneurship, or financial literacy – as everyone else. We can help people with autism learn these vital soft skills, while appreciating their strengths, and understanding what makes them different. 

Together we can grow, together we can overcome, together we can achieve.