In the midst of COVID-19, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge April being Autism Awareness month.
April was officially adopted as World Autism Awareness month by the United Nations back in 2007, with April 2 declared as the official day of Autism Awareness with the “Power of One” march.
Since then, businesses, private residences, and public spaces “light it up blue” by displaying blue lights as a symbol of support for those with autism. Wearing blue is also a common way to show support and recognition for people on the autism spectrum during the month of April. It’s important to note not everyone with autism or who has a loved one with autism is a supporter of “autism awareness month”. Many have chosen to rename April as “Autism Acceptance Month.” There are many reasons for this, many of which are somewhat complicated and very principled.
For that reason, we won’t get into that too much here, but we would like to encourage you to learn some general facts about autism by clicking here.
Everyone’s experience is different and deserves respect, but there is one point to raise above all others: shining the light on autism is not just about raising awareness and education- it’s much more than that. It’s also about garnering acceptance and support.
I happen to have a dear friend that has a child with autism, and I’ve seen firsthand both the tears and the joy she has experienced raising him to be a successful and happy person. This is no different from raising any kid, of course, but for those with autistic children, parenting often comes with its own unique set of challenges.
In April, you’ll see all kinds of events around the world centering around raising autistic awareness and acceptance:
- Fundraisers for autism research, education, and awareness are plentiful during the month of April. We’ve done a little homework on this- here is a list of organizations we think are worth looking at if you’re interested in participating or hosting a fundraiser.
- Some schools, hospitals, community centers, and other public health organizations host events specifically for autism awareness and acceptance.
- Venues such as movie theaters, amusement parks, museums, and art galleries often host events that are “sensory-friendly” specifically suited to those with autism.
A quick google search should yield information about some of these events in your area. We realize that with the COVID-19 quarantine in effect, event information may be inaccurate. Be sure to reach out to event coordinators to monitor changes as they happen.
Autism support and acceptance don’t end in April. Here are a few things people with autism and the people who love them would like for you to know:
- People with autism are diverse.
People with autism come from all ages, races, nationalities, religions, socioeconomic status, and whatever other walks of life you can think of. Like the rest of humans, making assumptions about a person with autism based upon any of these things is unhelpful and can even be harmful.
- People with autism and those who love them have different perspectives on living with autism.
For instance, some with autism find the term “high functioning” hurtful or even offensive, and some find the label helpful. Some feel more comfortable with a label to understand where they are on the spectrum according to their doctors and healthcare professionals. The principle is the same- people with autism are diverse in their feelings and opinions.
- Even though the population of people with autism is diverse, many share the same characteristics.
Autism can affect the way a person interacts with others and their environment because it affects how they see, hear, feel, and sometimes interpret social cues in others.
- People with autism would like to communicate with you and be heard…
But it’s important to understand that each person with autism has their own way of understanding and communicating within relationships. Some people with autism are adept at recognizing social cues and nuances, such as metaphors or sarcasm or figures of speech, and some are not.
Be mindful that some of the things we’ve learned to understand in casual conversation like facial expressions and tone of voice may not easily be processed by someone with autism. Struggling to recognize these nuances in communication and act “appropriately” can cause anxiety, frustration, and even depression if that person doesn’t feel supported or understood.
Also, people with autism may miss social cues signaling the timing of a conversation. It’s not always clear when to begin, end, or enter a conversation, and at times, it may be hard to match the pace of a conversation.
People with autism sometimes speak differently than others. Characteristics like stammering, going into unnecessary detail about a topic, or putting unusual emphasis on certain things are common. This can be frustrating, and the most helpful thing you can do is to listen carefully and give them ample space to speak freely.
- People with autism may not be able to express how they feel in typical ways.
The mental and emotional barrage of extrasensory things people with autism have to process can be very overwhelming and exhausting to deal with. As a result, the way they react to certain situations may not make sense to us unless you think about it from their perspective.
Even the changes accompanied by joyous occasions or events can create anxiety for someone with autism because they can be unpleasantly overwhelming. Add the fact that it’s difficult to communicate those feelings verbally, and it’s not too hard to see why dealing with emotions can be a unique challenge for those with autism.
Autism is a condition with its challenges and hardships, and people living with autism work hard every day to meet the world where “normal” lies. It’s helpful to someone with autism that we remember that no matter who we are, we’re all thinking our own unique thoughts and having unique experiences. It’s useful to everyone that we honor that truth.