An eye-opening video which aims to demonstrate what it really feels like to be autistic was shown to commuters at Brighton station last week.
The short film stars Saskia Lupin, 21, and has been viewed by more than one million people since it launched at the start of World Autism Awareness Week (March 26).
Saskia showed the film – which reveals how unexpected changes can lead to crippling anxiety and social isolation for autistic people – to passengers at her local railway station, Brighton, and said their reactions were amazing.
Saskia said: “I am autistic and an aspiring actor so I felt really passionately about starring in this film to help improve understanding of autism. When I watched the film, I got really emotional as for the first time, I felt like people would understand what it feels like to be autistic and experience unexpected changes.
"All too often, I get told that I don't look autistic and that can be really frustrating because on a daily basis I struggle with anxiety and being overwhelmed by the world around me.
"Seeing how people reacted to this video has made me realise that if society had more of an understanding of autism, we wouldn't feel so judged. It is clear that the public react to us in that way because we are acting in a way that seems unfamiliar to them, so I hope people will use World Autism Awareness Day to learn more about the condition.”
After Saskia showed the video to commuters, one man spoke about how shocked he was to see how overwhelming every day things, like catching a train, can be.
"It made it really clear to me that there are so many different things that can disorientate you and throw you off," he said. "I didn't realise and I would not think that that is the kind of effect it can have on someone, so it is really enlightening."
When Saskia asked one woman after watching the video what the public should do when they see someone acting in a way not familiar to them, she said: "If someone is using what helps them, to not make them feel awkward about it. So not staring and perhaps if you are able to, being sensitive around it."
Saskia also showed the film to members of the staff at Brighton station, which is owned by Southern, which as been working with the National Autistic Society to support World Autism Awareness Week.
Antony Merlyn, accessibility manager for Govia Thameslink Railway, parent company of Southern, said: "Through our conversations with passengers, including our 'Access Advisory Panels,' we know how important it is to ensure that support is available for passengers across the wide spectrum of access needs. Our front line teams are trained to support passengers with hidden disabilities such as autism and we are proud of the work they do to assist hundreds of passengers on a daily basis.
"We are delighted therefore to be supporting 'World Autism Awareness Day', as well as the National Autistic Society, in order to help raise awareness and understanding of the barriers that autism can present to people when travelling by train and in all walks of life."
The National Autistic Society said more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum; around 700,000 people in the UK.
Being autistic means seeing, hearing and feeling the world in a different, often more intense way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and may struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which can leave them feeling overwhelmed, particularly in busy public places.
According to a 2018 National Autistic Society survey of over 2,000 autistic people or parents responding on their behalf 75 per cent of autistic people said that unexpected changes, like delays, diversions and cancellations, make them feel socially isolated. And 67 per cent of autistic people say that the public react negatively (stare, tut, make comments, roll their eyes) when they try to calm themselves down (flapping their hands or rocking back and forth). As a result of this 52 per cent of autistic people said that a fear of experiencing unexpected changes has stopped them from going on a bus or train.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “We know that people don’t set out to be judgemental towards autistic people. The problem is that they often don’t see the autism, they just see the ‘tantrum’ or the ‘difficult person’ and this is making autistic people feel isolated.
"We’re deeply grateful to Saskia, the talented star in our film for helping us to share our message. A basic understanding of autism could transform the lives of autistic people and their families, allowing them feeling more accepted within society as opposed to judged."
To watch the film starring Saskia, click here.
To find out more about autism or the charity, visit: www.autism.org.uk