Student wins award for his inside view of autism

AN autistic student has awarded with an "education Oscar" for his work in raising awareness of the condition.

Kris Watson was honoured at the Scottish Qualifications Authority's Star Awards after being chosen out of nominations from the whole country.

The 26-year-old, who suffers from a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, ran an anti-stigma campaign at Stevenson College and gave staff and students an insight into the condition, which many people are still unaware of.

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He set up a group for other autistic students, giving them an opportunity to socialise with each other and - more crucially - giving them somewhere quiet to go at lunchtimes.

Mr Watson, from Broxburn, set up the group when he discovered many autistic students were skipping lunch because the dining hall experience was too much for them.

He said: "Although autism isn't a mental health problem, I was interested in using the experiences I have had to put mental health difficulties into perspective and promote the ethos of 'I'm a person, not a disability or diagnosis'.

"I wanted to set up a group for people with autism and Asperger syndrome.

"A lot of people weren't eating lunch at all because they didn't want to go to the lunch hall due to the chaos and noise.

"People with autism are painfully aware of every single situation that goes on around them and find it impossible to tune out which can lead to a melt down in somewhere like a dining hall where there's so much noise.

"The group was also a social group for playing games, meeting people, etc."

As well as creating a safe haven for autistic students, Mr Watson's campaign also saw him giving lecturers to staff and teachers on how best to teach people with autism.

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This included giving them tips on using visual aids in classes and providing autistic students with the kind of detail they need to allow them to understand certain information.

Mr Watson said: "Autism is a very loose term.

"You can meet two autistic people and they could be completely different.

"For whatever reason, the training isn't there yet for people with autism and the work I have done with educational staff has helped.

"A lot of people still don't know what Asperger's syndrome is.

"Although it's coming more and more into the mainstream, there's still a long way to go.

"For example, I put it on my job applications and one person thought it was a back complaint."

Although Mr Watson has now left Stevenson to go on to study forensic anthropology at Dundee University, his legacy remains and the group he set up is still meeting.

Staff at Stevenson had a double celebration at the SQA awards after the college was also presented with the Lifelong Learning Award for Centres for the work done delivering real and sustained learning opportunities for students of all ages.