World Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month

April marks World Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. It is a time to get a better understanding of what individuals in the community face. It also lets us explore the deeper and more positive aspects that being a part of the community can bring. Whether you know of someone, are someone, or know someone who knows someone, it is a great idea to engage with the community and do what you can to contribute to the effort of not only healing the community but accepting it. So, without further ado, let’s explore the meaning of autism, some of the main issues the community faces, and lastly, learn what we can do to continue to better our awareness, and accept and even empower the community. 

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. It is said to affect an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today. Autism is considered a developmental disorder, with several subtypes, meaning there isn’t just one form of autism. Each person with autism has their distinct strengths and weakness. For example, one person with autism might be great with science-based topics, and potentially highly skilled at understanding scientific concepts easily, but they may struggle with how they communicate. Another person may be highly skilled in, and be able to quickly understand athletics, but may have more of a struggle with their multiplication tables long-term. Some individuals with autism may also need more help completing daily routine tasks while others require less support

Challenges of Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Now that we have a better definition of what autism is, let’s explore a few of the things that people who are autistic may struggle with throughout their lifespan. Studies show that over 60% of young adults and children with autism have experienced or are experiencing bullying. Sadly, while people accept difference, uniqueness, and individuality freely, others use it as an opportunity to attack people who identify or can be identified as such. People with autism face physical, verbal, cyber, and social bullying–but there is something we can all do about it. Speak up! encourages individuals to stand up for others, rather than ignoring or standing by when the abuse is taking place. The organization also encourages individuals to learn and continue to stand up for themselves in order to prevent bullying from happening again. It is also important to realize, as a person within the community or in support of it, that you are not alone, realizing this notion makes it easier for individuals to find others to help them, whether it be teachers, peers, or parents, in times of distress, and even easier to stand up for themselves in the end. 

Additional Issues and Barriers

Many members of the autistic community struggle with employment. The article 10 Things to Know About Autism and Employment warns that autistic adults may have more difficulty landing employment. This is due to the extra testing process they will come across, compared to their neurotypical counterparts. The author, Lisa Jo Rudy, explains that most autistic adults are underemployed, due to low standards and expectations set by schools and parents. The lack of overall confidence in the potential success of an autistic adult may hinder their potential ability in the future. Other aspects to consider are things like social skill expectations and physical requirements that jobs may require. Certain neurodivergent individuals may not be able to meet said requirements because of their potential sensitivity to light, sound, and other stimuli

An additional barrier people with autism face is a lack of access to healthcare. In a Pediatric Research article called, Tackling healthcare access barriers for Individuals with Autism from Diagnosis to Adulthood, the authors cite the inability to afford costs, unclear referral pathways, insufficient healthcare transition services, and limitations in research and program advancement, as roadblocks to autistic lifetime health. They also point out potential recommendations to curb this disproportionate disparity. They point to the need for systematic change, paying more attention to the underserved populations, more program development within the medical and healthcare curricula, and the continued development of programs that help to spread awareness about things like early screening. 

What Can We Do?

Becoming an ally, standing up to things like bullying, calling out the need for more programs and resources within our community that support autistic individual’s transition from high school into adult life, and encouraging diverse and unique expression within each autistic individual are all things we can do to empower the autistic community. Organizations like Autism Speaks, encourage supporters and allies of the autistic community to pledge their support and upload a personal photo to their mosaic dedicated to collaboration and unity. They also encourage supporters to donate to the community and share personal stories to help foster more worldwide understanding and acceptance of the autistic community. And lastly, they encourage supporters to connect with the individuals around them and give back to their local schools and communities. 

Aside from all these great suggestions, an easy first step is to do what you’re doing now and educate yourselves! Educating yourself about the autistic community, and spreading this knowledge teaches others to have more respect and show more care to a wonderful and unique community that deserves to be heard, supported, and seen.

Stay Aware

Aside from all these great suggestions, an easy first step is to do what you’re doing now and educate yourself! Educating yourself about the autistic community, and spreading this knowledge teaches others to have more respect and show more care to a wonderful and unique community that deserves to be heard, supported, and seen. Despite being labeled as a person with a disability, persons with autism identify as, and are more than just their disability so treat them as such. Stand up for them when they’re in need of support, and give what you can to further the cause of not only awareness but acceptance.

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