As April comes to an end so does the month of Autism Awareness and I can’t help but wonder whether the world is now more aware of autism or not? Oh, don’t get me wrong. My heart was filled with joy as I saw all the buildings, landmarks and monuments around the world colored in blue in the beginning of the month.
I enjoyed seeing all the social media filled with posts, tweets and pictures of family, friends, coworkers and neighbors wearing blue for someone special that they know who has autism.
There was also the Panera Bread annual cookie sale to raise money for autism that my son and I both enjoyed.
Finally, there were many walks and runs to raise awareness and funds for autism research and various autism groups.
However, even with all that took place this April, I still have a sinking feeling in my stomach. I wonder if, now that the world is more aware of the word autism, do people really know more about Autism? Do they know how it affects individuals who have been diagnosed and their families?
In the last 7 years I have worked closely with autistic children and their families and there is one thing I have come realize that I wish everyone knew, which is the reason for this post. My heart’s desire is that the world knows and fully understands that individuals who have autism have specific peculiarities, and that is what makes their lives such a challenge.
It is also what makes them so special.
In order to interact positively with a person with autism you must know them personally and understand what makes them tick.
Though the puzzle piece is the universal symbol for autism, and Panera uses a puzzle piece cookie to raise awareness for the cause, the truth is that individuals with autism cannot be treated with any form of cookie-cutter approach. The expressions, challenges and needs of individuals with autism are as varied as the colors of the rainbow. Finding the perfect combination of interventions and helps that reach each of them is what really makes all the difference.
There is so much that is unknown about autism at this time despite the ongoing research. Here are a few realities that we know for sure:
- Families affected by autism need LOTS of support from their communities. Our churches, schools and community groups need to graciously open their arms to help accommodate these families and give them a special place in our midst even if that means changing the way we do things and changing our expectations too.
- Any small victory should be greatly celebrated given the socialization and learning challenges that autistic individuals face.
- The number of individuals with autism is growing exponentially. Whether it is due to better diagnoses, a growing global population, or even some misdiagnoses. What is certain is that the number is increasing and we need to better equip our police officers, firefighters, teachers, public servants and the population at large on how to interact positively with these individuals.
My hope is that we wouldn’t stop at simply knowing about autism. Rather, we ought to take a bigger step toward getting to know these amazing individuals and their families, learning from them what it looks like to serve, love and include them in our lives.
The Autism Society has more information to learn more about autism and what you can do to help.
Please read our compilation of the best books about Autism.
*Missy Harris has a background in Education, is the mother of a sweet baby boy, and works as a Therapeutic Staff Support for individuals on the Autism Spectrum.