David Burns, who has spent the past 12 years helping autistic children and their families, was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year’s Honours List in 2020.
However, the Covid pandemic delayed all investitures for several months and although they were reinstated in 2021 with restrictions, David chose to wait until a return to normality allowed him to take three guests to his investiture, since he was keen for his father to accompany him.
Consequently, it was mid-October this year before he finally stood before HRH Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, in Windsor Castle to receive his honour.
Father-of-four David, who is autistic himself, said it was an exciting and humbling occasion and though he was nervous when the Princess Royal spoke to him as she handed him his MBE medal, it was a very enjoyable experience. “I did feel nervous” he said, “but it was nice to have my family close by.”
He added that everyone involved in running the event had worked hard to put every visitor at their ease, but he was particularly impressed that he received a telephone call the day before from a member of the investiture office team.
“They rang saying they wanted to let me know what happened at an investiture,” David said. Being aware that his autism might cause him to feel uncomfortable in an unknown space that would be full of people, the office took the trouble to contact him and let him know what to expect.
David, who has five grandchildren, is a qualified privacy professional, and lectures at the University of Winchester, as well as supporting Autism Hampshire to achieve its stated aims of changing perceptions about autism as an Expert by Experience.
In addition, he is currently working with medical undergraduates at Brighton University, where he talks about the diverse needs of autistic people in order to educate and influence, with the aim of providing better health care for autistic people in the future.
He has also written several books, including the incredibly honest and often humorous account of his lived experience of autism – ‘Do Lemons Have Feathers’, which gives an insight into autism not as a condition to be managed, but rather as an aspect of somebody’s personality.
David’s writing includes a guide for schools on how to create autism-friendly classrooms without major expense, and he is a tireless advocate for autistic children, using his own experience and learnt expertise to raise awareness and change attitudes in schools.
“I want to influence people who have an impact on autistic people’s lives,” said David, “and create good outcomes for them through informing parents, teachers and local authorities.”
He commented how important this is as he has helped many families fight back against schools that have excluded their autistic children. He added that in recent years there have been improvements in the education system, “but there is still a long way to go.”
David’s main concern is that autistic children and those with other neurodivergent conditions do not get written off and miss out on a full, well-rounded education.
With his vast experience of autism and working with autistic children, David voluntarily lends his expertise to Autism Hampshire, a local charity based in Whiteley, as a member of its Experts by Experience forum. The forum meets monthly to support Autism Hampshire’s project and service development, discuss topics relevant to autistic people and create responses to challenges through the panel members’ lived experience.
Speaking about his MBE, David said “The recognition is nice, but it’s the difference I can make in changing attitudes towards autistic people that matters more. I can’t change the world for everyone, but I can help one person at a time.”
Cheryl Claxton, Fundraising & Community Manager at Autism Hampshire and Senior Leadership Team member commented, “We’re delighted that David’s hard work and dedication to working and improving education and health settings for autistic children and adults has been recognised.”
She added, “He is a tireless advocate for autism acceptance, and he’s also a wonderful individual to work with. David’s support through Experts by Experience has been greatly valued by Autism Hampshire and we congratulate him on this richly deserved MBE.”