If someone you love has autism, you're quite aware of what the disorder is and how it works. But do your friends understand the spectrum? Does your community make assumptions about your family that aren't quite true?
April is the ideal time to raise community consciousness about families just like yours. April is Autism Awareness Month, both nationally and globally.
The History of Autism Awareness Month
The Autism Society, based in the United States, came up with the awareness month concept in the 1970s. But a lot has changed since then.
In the early 1970s, the general public knew very little about autism. The Autism Society launched a nationwide event in 1972, which they called National Autism Awareness Month.
The Autism Society is one of the first and oldest autism-focused organizations within the United States. The group started advocacy work in 1969, and the organizers stood behind the development of the autism awareness ribbon released in 1999.
As a national event, the scope of the National Autism Awareness Month was limited to the United States. Plenty of people with autism live outside of the country, and some advocates thought they could expand their audience and do more good.
If your family is discussing Autism Awareness Month, you could be talking about either version of these awareness events. They are both critical.
Myths about autism persist, as Autism Speaks explains. Some people believe that people with autism:
- Have no emotions at all.
- Don't want any friends.
- Can't understand emotion.
- Are intellectually disabled.
Activism can shape perception and help to quell some of these myths about people with autism. Sometimes, activists prompt meaningful changes that help politicians and other officials to fund the right projects at the right time. Your participation in an awareness month could help to effect more change than you realize.
How Can I Participate?
If you're ready to spread the word about autism and help your community learn, plenty of opportunities exist.
Here are some ways to participate:
- Embrace the blue. In 2010, Autism Speaks attached the color blue to Autism Awareness Month. Buildings, homes, and monuments all around the world are shrouded in the color on April 2, when Autism Awareness Month formally kicks off. Swap out your porch light for a blue version, or wear blue that day to express your support for the cause.
- Run for the cause. Jog alongside other autism advocates and raise money. Join a team through Autism Speaks, or reach out to your local autism organization to find a race near you.
- Raise money. Hold a bake sale. Sell items on eBay. Knit scarves and sell them on Etsy. Think of ways to generate funds, and send the total to the organization that means the most to you.
- Spread the word. Share updates about your work on your social media channels with the hashtag #AutismAwarenessMonth, or tag the organization you're supporting in each post you write.
- Attend an event. Organizations like the Autism Society hold fundraising events to spread awareness, celebrate, and generate funds. Head to an event close to you, or hold one of your own to raise money.
- Share knowledge. The Organization for Autism Research creates handouts every year for Autism Awareness Month. Choose the products that resonate with your family, and share them with your community. You could change perceptions one person at a time.
Some of these ideas are time-consuming. You may not have enough flexibility in your schedule to tackle each task, and that's fine. But checking off even one of these items could be quite helpful for your community.
What Else Can I Do?
Some families appreciate structured activities. Others love to raise funds. If you don’t fit into either category, you can still celebrate Autism Awareness Month. You'll just need to get creative.
- Spread kindness. Look for people with autism within your network and your community. Find ways to brighten their days. Share a smile, say a kind word, or invite this person to a family gathering. Make this the month you celebrate real people with autism.
- Combat inaccuracies. Speak up when you see friends and family members sharing harmful or hurtful information during Autism Awareness Month. Correct misconceptions with real data when you can. This form of independent advocacy is especially important in April, supporters say.
- Celebrate your family. Look for ways to draw your family closer together in April. Hold special events as a family, or take this time to reassess everyone's physical and mental health. Bring awareness to how you all feel during this special month.
Think hard enough, and you probably have plenty of celebration ideas. There's no right or wrong way to come together.
Reach Out to Organizers
Every Autism Awareness Month is a little bit different. Organizers choose new themes, come up with unique activities, and develop new educational assets. Reach out when April draws near to stay abreast of the year's plans.
These organizations are involved in Autism Awareness Month:
- National Autism Association: Headquartered in Rhode Island, this organization has a robust website, and organizers update social media channels like Facebook and Instagram regularly.
- Local National Autism Association chapters: Work directly with smaller offices scattered throughout the United States. Some states have several chapters, while others have only one. Use the directory to find the one closest to you.
- Autism Speaks: This large organization is active on plenty of social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow along to find out more about plans for April's celebrations.
- Autism Speaks chapters: This organization also has smaller chapter offices located throughout the United States. The online directory can help you find the one closest to your home.
- Autism Society: Use this website to sign up for regular email updates, or follow the organization on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
- Organization for Autism Research: Tap on the website to find out about events happening soon. Or follow the organization on social media for up-to-date planning information.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in Autism Awareness Month. To whatever degree you participate, you are helping to expand the public’s understanding about autism. This helps to make the world a better, more supportive place for people with autism.
- National Autism Awareness Month. Autism Society.
- History. Autism Society.
- About Us. Autism Speaks.
- World Autism Month. Autism Speaks.
- 11 Myths About Autism. (September 2018). Autism Speaks.
- World Autism Month FAQ. Autism Speaks.
- Participate and Fundraise. Autism Speaks.
- Celebrate Differences: Take the Pledge. Autism Society.
- Get Involved in Autism Awareness. Organization for Autism Research.
- My Three Daughters Are Autistic. I Despise Autism Awareness Month. (April 2015). The Washington Post.
- When You Don’t Know What Don’t Know: Myth Busting for Autism Awareness Month. (April 2020). Forbes.
- How My Autism Awareness Has Changed Over 15 Years. (April 2020). Yahoo! Life.
- Autism Awareness Month. (April 2018). National Institute of Mental Health.
- Autism Awareness Month. Center for Disability Rights.
- Home. National Autism Association.