April is Autism Awareness Month. What this means is that agencies, governments, schools, families, and others worldwide will shift their focus and take a closer look at this pervasive developmental disorder. But what can we actually do, as individuals, to increase positive awareness during the month of April — and all year long?
Children, from preschool through the intermediate years, can personally touch the lives of their friends living with autism. Many times, a family who has a child with special needs may be hesitant to initiate common neighborhood interactions. Random acts of kindness from other families with children of similar ages are all it takes. If your child is having a lemonade sale, take the time to organize this with the parent of an autistic child. Teach your child to share a Matchbox car in the park with the child who makes noises. Two children sitting side by side on a swing enjoying a popsicle is priceless, even if one has a 20-word vocabulary and the other reads long novels about Harry Potter.
Preteens and teenagers are tuned in to those in school who need special support. Earning community service credit by volunteering in special education classrooms does a world of good for all students — both those with special needs and the volunteers. Just like typical teenagers, teens with autism prefer not to have a “baby sitter.” However, many teenagers with autism need to have support from others. Utilizing the assistance of an older teen or college student for social activities is a great way for a person with autism to experience the fun and excitement of the real world with a friend. Simple gestures, such as being a text or e-mail buddy, go a long, long way toward helping someone feel included and happy.
We can promote awareness and sensitivity this April, next April, and all year long. It is the little gestures that count. For example, when having a BBQ in your backyard, be aware of the needs of all of your guests. People with autism have sun-sensitivity, so having an area set in the shade with some age-appropriate items will be appreciated.
If you are venturing out to see a movie with children, ask a parent of a child with special needs if she would like to join in with her child. Most, if not all, people with special needs (especially autism) live for videos. Having a chance to go to the movies with a group of peers is a super social opportunity, without the pressure of conversation!
Include other mothers and fathers in your neighborhood of special happenings at the local public schools. Some children with autism attend schools outside of their neighborhood. Keeping these families on an e-mail chain provides information on local social events.
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Try to make an effort to enjoy each month with your children, as they are each special to you. April is a month dedicated to those children and adults who live with autism spectrum disorder, and how we can enjoy special moments with them, too.
For more information on how you can volunteer, contact your local school’s special education PTA, Autism Speaks, or a local chapter of Special Olympics.