STUDENTS learned lessons in autism awareness at a pioneering facility at South Tyneside College.
Learners made information boards, featuring images and biographies of famous celebrities and historical figures diagnosed with, or believed to have had, autism.
Scientist Albert Einstein, writer George Orwell and car-maker Henry Ford were among the famous names believed to have been autistic.
Students sat a scientifically recognised online test, devised by autism expert, Simon Baron-Cohen, to identify autistic traits.
This revealed that some people can show signs of highly autistic traits without being formally diagnosed.
Most students registered average or below average scores on the Autism – Spectrum Quotient (AQ) questionnaire, developed by Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre.
The event was organised by students in the college’s specialist Interface department, which teaches life and work skills to young people with autism and Asperger syndrome, and is the most advanced unit of its kind in any North East college.
Interface students involved in the day were Lauren Waistell, 22, Anne Walmsley and Sarah Beck, both 20, with health and social care students Bryony Frewer, 20, and Nabiha Islam and Beth Terrace, both 18.
Curriculum leader Nicola Beldham said: “The event highlighted the strengths that people with autism have and how they can be exceptional. Many people with autism are positive role models.
“We wanted to highlight autism as a ‘different ability,’ and not a ‘disability.’
“I was surprised by how many people who passed the display stopped to say that someone in their family, or a neighbour or friend, had autism.”
Interface, which provides tuition and support for 44 full-time students, aged between 16 and 25, was created in 2007 and is the only specialist mainstream college facility of its kind in the region for those with autism or Asperger syndrome.
Based at the college’s Westoe campus, in St George’s Avenue, South Shields, students at Interface typically spend a year learning social and emotional skills, such as how to interact in a variety of social contexts, plus how to cope with anxiety and stress.
Students can also learn independent living skills, such as personal safety, money management, shopping and travel.