Kacey Ainsworth on learning about how to support people on the autism spectrum after her son's diagnosis
Kacey Ainsworth, known for her roles in Grantchester and EastEnders, has opened up about looking at the world in a different way and how much she has learned since her son's autism diagnosis.
The star, who touched the nation's hearts with her award-winning portrayal of Little Mo in EastEnders, spoke on White Wine Question Time to Kate Thornton about her family, breaking down stereotypes around women on screen, and her early acting career.
She spoke about the need to accommodate differing abilities and how many people will end up benefitting from very simple changes, even those without an autism diagnosis.
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She said: "The things that I've learned are that everybody looks at things differently. Actually, you only need to make reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate people who have differing abilities. And a) we don't see enough of that. And b) we need to be more accommodating.
"Because I think there's a lot of situations where children are excluded from school or a lot of young people in prison are undiagnosed, with various differing abilities.
"And if we just look at those children and say: 'Right, this child is not going to sit on a mat and listen to a story because this child can't do that. So what else can I do for this child?'
"That's why things like fidget spinners came in, because then your child will sit on a mat and listen to the story because they've got a fidget spinner to also deal with.
"But what what used to happen was was that teachers would go: 'Oh, you you can't do that, because everyone will want one.' Well, not everyone has a differing ability."
LISTEN to the full episode to hear more about working with Robson Green and her early acting career
She told a story of a boy in her daughter's class who had been diagnosed with moderate to severe autism, and who also had a sight issue. When her son, Elwood, was being going through his autism diagnosis, the family used the daughter's classmate as a comparison.
She said: "Elwood was going through all of his diagnosis. You have to go through hundreds and hundreds of meetings, which always makes me laugh, because I think the worst thing you can do to a child with autism is make them meet loads of different people in strange atmospheres.
"My daughter said to me: 'Why is Elwood going up for all of these tests because I didn't do this? And I thought: 'Oh, my goodness, she's nine. She's had this boy in her class, since they were four, she'll understand because he has autism, and obviously, his sight issue, but she'll understand this process.'
"And so I said: 'Well, I said, they think that Elwood has the same thing as your friend.' And she said: Oh my God, he's going blind?'
"She didn't see the boy's autism at all, all she saw was his physical difficulty we're seeing. And she's always said to me: 'My whole year would have been not as it was if we hadn't had him in our class.
"'Because we all knew that he looked at the world in a different way.' She said, in some ways, it was really exciting, because you just didn't know what he was going to do. She said it was great and brilliant. And they all knew how to soothe it. She never even questioned that he had autism."
Ainsworth explained that the children learned between them ways to soothe their friend, and that he used to plait Ainsworth's daughter's hair when he was feeling stressed.
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Ainsworth said: "Just an action of doing something like that [plaiting her hair] got him over a little hump of feeling really anxious. And this was just a thing that they had discovered between themselves. How wonderful is that? I've learned so much about how you can help people."
She told Thornton about how making changes for autistic people can have benefits for many other people too.
She said: "With autism, you have to score on three different levels. But there are lots of children out there who have their traits. And there's a lot of children out there who might have difficulty with one of those traits as well, or two of those traits.
"So they don't score overall. But they have two traits of autism. Which means that if you put things in place for your child with autism, there's other children who will benefit from that, too."
She spoke about the need to recognise the differences within the autism community, and staying aware of the issues that are being faced and debated.
She said: "There's a whole debate going on in the autism community at the moment about some research going into people with autism. And there's some who are really for it, and some that are really against it.
"So I'm listening to the debate about. Because if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. That's it.
"It's kind of like saying, you know, all deaf people are the same – it's just madness.
"And sometimes that's a really amazing lens to look through."
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