Melanie Sykes calls for education system to be ‘demolished and rebuilt’ to help people with autism

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The education system needs to be “demolished and rebuilt” so that it can better support people with autism, said TV presenter Melanie Sykes.

Discussing her recent diagnosis at the age of 51, which she announced earlier this week, Sykes reflected on the struggles she faced throughout her youth and career, some of which she had previously attributed to the North and to a “good speaker”.

“I did a great live game show on a Saturday night and I couldn’t read numbers like money on the automatic queue,” she told The Guardian. “I had to wait for the director to tell me what that number was, which on a live show is really stressful. “

Other times, while using an earpiece, Sykes encountered difficulties with the talkback, when she accidentally responded to the director in her ear rather than someone interviewed in front of her.

“Then I did a talk show with Des O’Connor (Today with Des and Mel) and he didn’t use headphones which was fantastic for me because we were all getting our signals off the ground. . It was the first time in my career that I could be present with the guest and really listen to them.

Sykes even failed auditions because she was not “able to get things done on time and get a response”, and received surprising comments.

“I’ve been told a lot of times, ‘oh, nobody ever says that’ or ‘nobody ever complained about it’ and now I know why. I used to think it was because I was from the North and was just a straight talker.

Quick guide



Autism is a spectrum disorder, which is defined by difficulties with social communication and restricted or repetitive behaviors, activities or interests. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that these difficulties exist from childhood even if a person is diagnosed in adulthood.
Autistic traits appear on a spectrum, which means that people are affected in different ways and to different degrees. For example, some people with autism are unable to speak or have very limited verbal communication, while others have sophisticated language skills, but may find it difficult to take things literally or find more difficult abstract concepts. to be continued.

People with autism may have difficulty reading the emotions or intentions of others, which can make socialization difficult to navigate. They may find it difficult to make friends or maintain friendships. That doesn’t mean, however, that people with autism lack emotions or desire friendships and social acceptance.

Routine changes or unexpected events can be stressful. People with autism may prefer to stick to a known pattern of behavior, like eating the same meal every morning, wearing the same clothes. Some people with autism repeat movements such as clapping, swinging, or turning around and find that these behaviors help them calm down when they feel anxious.

Autism is linked to very focused interests or hobbies. The topic could be something niche like stamp collecting or electricity pylons, or something more common like environmental activism or fashion. It is the nature and intensity of the interest that is unusual, not necessarily the subject.

People with autism may also have sensory sensitivities, such as finding loud noises overwhelming, finding rough materials particularly uncomfortable, or having an aversion to certain food textures.

A diagnosis of autism is made on behavioral criteria and this criterion has widened over time. This means that Autism Spectrum Disorders are a very diverse group, with some needing full-time support and others having specific challenges in certain areas of their lives.

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The presenter, who also hosted Let’s Do Lunch with Gino D’Acampo and Sortir with Alan Carr, had worked on a documentary about the failures of the education system with Harry Thompson, writer and speaker on autism and PDA), when he recognized her autistic traits and suggested that she do an evaluation.

“It included things like not doing very well in school. Although I was an avid reader, I couldn’t quite figure out what to do.

“I still think he’s the youngest of my year. I left school at 15, and I just thought I was less mature than the others, but now I know that the education system was not set up in a way that allows me to function. the low. It forces you to adopt a certain way of thinking and being, and if you’re not up to it, you’re left behind. That is why we have to demolish the education system and rebuild it so that it is suitable for everyone.

Sykes cited autistic teenager Dara McAnulty, who has written a book on immersion in nature, as inspiration. “Learning shouldn’t be just sitting in a classroom and forced to learn algebra or French when your brain isn’t working like that. What a waste of your childhood. I can’t read a number longer than five digits, and there’s no way doing an hour of math every day for five years would have changed that. When I could have learned, for example, that I have a very good eye.

The neurotypical brain, she added, “might not be typical at all. So the system that supports these types of brains is not necessarily what should be the norm. “

This is an issue Sykes is deeply attached to, especially since his youngest son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three (he is now 17). Her documentary with Thompson is one of many projects she hopes to pursue after setting up her own production company. She says she is keen to use her profile to encourage change: “My activism has taken off massively. “

At the same time, she continues to edit Frank Magazine, which she launched two years ago because “the life of women, and the quality of their life, is extremely important to me”.

Since revealing her diagnosis, she has been inundated with messages from people – including readers – thanking her for speaking out. “There were women who were diagnosed and haven’t told anyone about it because they’re embarrassed. Even today someone asked me how I was and I said, “Well, did you read the information? And they were like, “Oh, I didn’t want to talk about it.”

For Sykes, his autistic nature is something to embrace. “How I speak, how I express myself, how I move. I have often been told to slow down because everything is in high gear. I am very proactive. I never leave anything unfinished, because I can’t relax until I do.

Other traits, she added, include “an inability to tell untruths, a great sense of justice, and when I’m really interested in something, I investigate further and further.”

Realizing all of this, Sykes said, was the key to improving the system. “The way I see it is that all the reasons I have autism are the best things about me. ”


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