Make a difference in someone's life. Get involved with Autism Awareness Month & promote acceptance for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism is one of the rising developmental disabilities around the globe. In 1970, one in about 2,000 children was diagnosed with autism. In 2018, the number has grown to one in 44 children, according to the CDC. Although many have argued that the growing numbers are due to greater understanding and expanded knowledge about this condition because of programs like the Autism Awareness Month. Thus, a kid who is considered autistic today may be deemed mentally retarded and therefore, a social outcast, back in the ’70s.
When Is Autism Awareness Month?
Autism awareness month is held every April all over the world with the aim of educating communities and raising public awareness about this condition. It started in 1970 when the Autism Society launched a nationwide campaign to bring to light this condition and how it affects the quality of life of children affected by it and their families.
Two years later, the Autism Society spearheaded the first-ever National Autistic Children’s Week, which later evolved to become Autism Awareness Month. In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. This day serves as a kick-off for a month-long series of events.
In recent years, the main thrust of the Autism Society has shifted from awareness to acceptance. And the aim is to build an inclusive society where differences are celebrated and autistic people can live and reach their full potential.
Understanding What Autism Is
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions that affect communication, behavior, and social skills. ASD symptoms can range from minor issues to major disabilities that require full-time care.
Common Symptoms of Autism
People with ASD will have trouble relating and communicating with other people. They also have repetitive behaviors and restrictive interests. Thus, it’s quite common to encounter an autistic person who is a genius in one field and yet has trouble understanding other people.
Pediatricians and experienced caregivers can notice symptoms of this condition in children before their first year. However, symptoms become obvious and consistent when they’re 2-3 years old. In mild cases, symptoms may not be obvious until the child starts school.
Common things to look out for in people with this disability includes:
• Difficulty expressing their emotions.
• Inability to understand what other people feel.
• Not maintaining eye contact.
• Inability to understand nonverbal cues.
• Difficulty forming and maintaining relationships.
• Stilted speech.
• Difficulty coping with changes in the environment.
• Engrossed in one particular subject and lack of interest in all the others.
• Hypersensitivity to sound, smell, touches, or sights.
• Obsessed with the habit of arranging things in a very particular order.
• Behaviors like rocking, spinning, or flapping.
Types of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Before 2013, healthcare professionals diagnosed ASD according to four different subtypes, namely:
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Autistic Disorder
• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder
When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders was revised, the four subtypes became obsolete. Instead, the condition is recognized as a whole under the umbrella term ASD. Today, doctors assess a patient and diagnose them under any of the three levels of ASD, depending on the amount of support the person needs.
Level 1: Requiring Support
People who are diagnosed with Level 1 autism will have difficulty initiating and engaging in social interactions. Thus, they will have difficulty making friends. They can speak coherent sentences but have an issue participating in a back-and-forth conversation with others.
Coping with changes in their environment or schedule is a struggle for them. And they may have issues with planning and organization, which may be detrimental to their independence.
Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
People with Level 2 ASD have more pronounced symptoms than those with Level 1. They can speak in simple sentences but still have difficulty identifying nonverbal cues, making communication a struggle for them.
They have marked repetitive behavior, like pacing back and forth or saying the same words over and over again. People with this level of autism have very narrow interests and they get frustrated with changes in their schedule or environment.
Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial Support
People diagnosed with Level 3 ASD have a severe form of the condition. They typically have all the symptoms of levels 1 and 2 but more extreme manifestations. They will rarely interact with others and use only a limited number of words.
Because of their restrictive and repetitive behaviors, they will struggle to function in different areas of life. Any change of focus or schedule will be extremely stressful for them.
How to Be an Ally to Autistic People
Whether you’re a family member, know someone who is autistic, or are just curious about the condition, you can always take part in the advocacy. Here are meaningful ways you can do just that:
Understand What the Condition Is About… and What It Isn’t
Sometimes, understanding is a prerequisite to acceptance. And that’s what Autistic Awareness Month is for. It’s important for people to realize that autism is not a disease and autistic people are not to be pitied or looked down on.
They are unique individuals who see the world differently than most of the population does. And even though they have common characteristics and behaviors, every person’s experiences vary and symptoms could manifest differently.
Be a Friend to Someone With ASD
Autistic people are often misunderstood. Their behaviors could be taken as rude to someone who doesn't have an understanding of the condition. This is why some families feel isolated — they don’t get invited to parties and parents may be compelled to leave gatherings simply because of behaviors that are deemed “distracting.”
If you really want to make an impact, be there for the autistic person or for the family. Invite them over like you would invite your other friends and don’t get offended when an autistic person doesn't seem to reciprocate your friendliness. Remember, making friends doesn't come naturally for them.
Here are other practical ways to show your support:
• Respect their intelligence and ability. Just because they may not respond the way you want them to doesn’t mean they don’t understand.
• Listen to them. They may not be great at engaging in conversation, but when they do, take care to listen and spend time with them.
• If you notice a parent or caregiver having a hard time with an autistic child, ask what you can do to help.
There are many ways to be part of the advocacy. During Autistic Awareness Month, there’s a wide range of activities you can be involved in. You can join the conversation on social media, get involved if there’s an event in your local community, or help in fundraising efforts for organizations that aim to educate and promote the same ideals. While you’re at it, you may also want to encourage your friends and families to join as well.
Support Autistic People Year-Round
Acceptance is not just a month-long thing. It’s a lifestyle that we must cultivate if we want to build a better society where autistic people are recognized for the unique individual that they are and for them to have an environment that's conducive for them to thrive and contribute to the community.
So… when is Autism Awareness Month? The short answer is April. But for progress to happen, the sentiment should be year-round.