April is World Autism Month, and we’ll be commemorating it worldwide for almost the fiftieth time since its inception in 1970 by the Autism Society. The yearly celebration is meant to raise awareness on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is defined as “a pervasive neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social communication and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The “spectrum” in ASD connotes the disparity of symptoms that persons with autism experience, as well as the subtypes of Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.
Autism remains widely misunderstood and stigmatized by society; aside from the physical and developmental limitations that persons with autism must deal with, they also face a lack of inclusivity, educational opportunities, and access to treatments and services that could improve their lives. But campaigns like World Autism Month and World Autism Day are out to change all that—and there are myriad opportunities for the public to support the autistic members of their community.
Are you interested in fostering awareness of autism, bolstering the livelihood of autistic persons, and highlighting what your autistic loved ones can offer the community? Here are some pointers to make the month-long celebration a meaningful, inclusive, and happy one.
- Fill in your own gaps in knowledge about autism. Start by learning about the particulars of autism; the differences between ASD, Asperger’s, and PDD; the difficulties that persons with autism experience in their day-to-day lives; and the misconceptions about autism that you can help your less knowledgeable peers debunk. This knowledge can improve your empathy and engagement of persons with autism.
- Wear your support. Visuals are important in the messaging for autism awareness. You can get such a message across by wearing it on your person in the form of a T-shirt, an embossed wristband, a pin, or the iconic puzzle ribbon. This is a simple yet powerful gesture to convey your support of the movement.
- Sign up for any local seminars, livelihood fairs, or wellness activities benefiting persons with autism. Your local community may have organized some festivities around Autism Awareness Month, such as a wellness walk, a fun run, a donation drive, a craft fair, and the like. Do join in; spare your time, effort, and monetary resources so that the entire community—persons with autism involved—can have a fun and productive time.
- Follow an information campaign online. In April, social media will probably light up with infographics, news articles, and inspirational videos featuring persons with autism. Some of this content will be shared independently, but other pieces might be part of a wider health communications campaign or born from the efforts of autistic influencers themselves. When you see such content on your feed, do give it traction.
- Get to know this year’s thrust for World Autism Awareness Day. The United Nations upholds the rights of persons with disabilities in its mandate. To this end, it has announced “Assistive Technologies, Active Participation” as the official thrust for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2019. According to the UN, access to assistive technology is important for persons with autism because it can either reduce or eliminate some of the barriers they face in their daily interactions with others. You can contribute to the worldwide initiative by helping fund research, development, or distribution of assistive technology.
- Reach out to your loved ones who have autism. Don’t forget to engage the people who should be at the front and center of the activities this month: the persons with autism that you know. Find ways to show that you love and support them by spending time doing the things that they like, in social circumstances they’re comfortable with. Remember the teachable moments that are in store for you, such as how to adjust to their sensory preferences and to communicate with them clearly.
Charity and visibility are not the only goals of autism awareness; direct support and engagement are needed as well. Keep these things in mind as we approach Autism Awareness Month, and strive to make the world a better place for all persons with autism.
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b3/Students%2C_families_walk_to_support_Autism_Awareness_Month_140404-M-ZZ999-331.jpg/512px-Students%2C_families_walk_to_support_Autism_Awareness_Month_140404-M-ZZ999-331.jpg