A guest blog from Arabella Lucas, an I CAN volunteer

I don’t know when autism was first described to me, but my older brother was diagnosed at the age of six. It took me a very long time to notice that there was any difference between him and my sister and I. We shared a bedroom for a few years and I remember playing Lego with him, saving up for a PlayStation and lots of play fighting with him.

One night I distinctly remember teaching him about sarcasm. I regret saying anything now as he uses it constantly, but at the time I was so excited to share something with him that I had probably only learnt that day at school. However when I tried to explain the concept of sarcasm, even using the most over the top sardonic tone of voice I could, he didn’t seem to understand it. In hindsight taking speech literally or not understanding sarcasm is an obvious symptom of autism, but I did not give that moment or many others a second thought until I was much older.

At secondary school I became very interested in autism as a disorder. What caused it? How was it diagnosed? Many of the questions I had then still haven’t been answered today, but they did set in motion my love of psychology, which I hope to study at university next year.

Currently I am on a gap year and initially I wanted to combine my interests of psychology and autism into some kind of volunteering. For the last three months I have been working as a volunteer information assistant at I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and I’ve discovered how little I knew about speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) among children and young people. 1 in every 10 children has SLCN. Having talked to my mother, I found that my brother was initially diagnosed with SLCN because his poor communications skills masked the other symptoms of autism.

The work that I CAN does to help children and young people who have severe needs – some like my brother on the autism spectrum and others with language delay is amazing. As part of my work there I’ve become familiar with the struggles of parent with children with SLCN. They have a similar story. Parents are at their wits’ end because their child can barely talk, read, or socialise with other children and they become isolated. The overriding message is that I CAN helped give their child a better future by giving them a voice either through its specialist schools, enquiry service or its programmes.

I am now moving on from I CAN, which is very sad, as the team there has been fantastic. The experience has made me appreciate the importance of communication as a fundamental skill for life. Next I’ll be working as a support worker for National Autistic Society in one of their day centres. I will be working with people who are very different to my brother so I’m sure it will be equally as eye opening

I had never volunteered before I came to I CAN and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. Volunteering anywhere is a wonderful opportunity to learn new skills and be part of a team. It isn’t always exciting or glamorous, but it is rewarding to know in some small way you are making a difference.

Overall I have realised being connected to autism has made a marked difference to my life. It has shaped the way I think about the world, my university choices and possibly my career choices. I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for my brother.

Blog by Arabella Lucas, Information Assistant volunteer