Autism Awareness Month: The Facts You Should Know
Autism Awareness Month: The Facts You Should Know
Autism is a complex developmental disability that challenges millions of people worldwide. It’s not something you’ll just “get over.” Autism affects every aspect of a person’s life, from verbal and nonverbal communication skills to social interactions. While there’s no cure for autism, there are plenty of ways to support someone with the condition. That’s why it’s important to understand the facts about autism.
That said, many people don’t know much about autism, which is why we’re celebrating Autism Awareness Month in April. Read on to learn more about this developmental disability and what you can do to support someone living with it.
What is autism?
Autism is a spectrum disorder that’s present at birth and becomes increasingly evident during childhood. People on the spectrum have certain difficulties in social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors.
These challenges can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from schoolwork to social activities.
While there are different kinds of autism, all of them share some common traits. The three main types of autism are:
- Autistic Disorder: People with autistic disorder have very severe challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. They might also display an obsessive side.
- Asperger’s Syndrome: People with Asperger’s syndrome have average or above-average intelligence, although they have repetitive behaviors and limited interests. They might also have a talent for mechanical things.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorders: There are five main types of PDD, including Autism, Rett’s Disorder, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. The symptoms of these forms of autism are often milder, and affect many areas of a person’s life.
Why is April the month to raise awareness about autism?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 59 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism. That means there are about 5.4 million children living with the condition right now.
While all forms of disabilities deserve awareness, autism is particularly challenging. It’s a complex condition that affects a person’s behavior, thoughts, and emotions. For many, it can be difficult to know how to show support.
That’s why we’re celebrating Autism Awareness Month in April. It’s the perfect time to learn about autism, what it is, and what you can do to support a loved one living with it.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?
The symptoms of autism vary from person to person, just like the challenges faced by people with the condition. For some, it may mean a preference for quiet activities. For others, it might mean having repetitive behaviors or an obsession with specific things.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of autism include:
Difficulty connecting with people: Social interactions and conversations can feel strange or awkward, which can make it difficult for a person with autism to connect with others.
Difficulty understanding and using non-verbal cues: Someone with autism might not understand when you’re looking directly at them, or why you’re not responding. They might also have trouble following directions that use non-verbal cues (such as “walk over to the table,” instead of “walk and pick up the table model”).
Trying too hard to fit in: Many people with autism feel pressure to “act normal.” But acting “normal” isn’t always possible for someone on the spectrum.
How Do I Support Someone With Autism?
There are lots of ways to support a loved one who has autism, both during and outside of the month of April. Some ways to support someone with autism include:
Letting the person with autism take the lead: It can be tempting to try to “help” a person with autism by doing things for them or doing things according to their preferences. But the best way to support someone with autism is for you to let them lead.
Using humor: Many people with autism find humor a powerful way to connect with others. Humor is important both for physical and emotional health.
Fostering positive social interactions: Many people with autism find social interactions stressful or anxiety-inducing. It can be difficult to balance engaging with others while keeping your own anxiety in check.
Encouraging creative thinking: Autism affects how a person thinks, processes information, and creates. That means it can be challenging to come up with new ideas, problem-solve, and express yourself creatively.
What Are the Effects of Autism?
The effects of autism can be wide-ranging, and vary from person to person. Some effects of autism may include:
Lack of impulse control: Some people with autism have very poor impulse control. This can lead to risky behaviors, such as exposing oneself to danger or putting objects into their bodies (i.e., self-injury).
Lack of focus: It can be difficult for someone on the spectrum to stay focused on one thing, as opposed to being “spaced out” or “frozen” in place (a common response when someone is under stress or feels overwhelmed).
Communication difficulties: It can be difficult for someone with autism to communicate feelings or “non-verbal” cues (such as “stop” or “don’t touch”) because they may not be aware of them.
Repetitive behaviors: Repetitive behaviors can be a result of either anxiety or a desire to avoid social situations. Many people with autism engage in behaviors to self-soothe, such as rocking, hand-flapping, or spinning.
Where to Learn More About Autism?
There are lots of great organizations and resources that provide information about autism and ways to support a loved one. Here are a few:
Autism Speaks: Autism Speaks is the leading autism advocacy organization in the world. They have a “Find Us” page that has links to local chapters around the country (and the world).
Autism Self-Advocacy Network: The mission of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network is to facilitate and support self-advocates with autism to lead effective advocacy, create positive change, and access community resources.
AutismHire: AutismHire is a job placement program that helps people with autism find jobs in fields like customer service, sales, and management.
Autism is a very challenging condition, but it’s important to remember that it’s not “curable” or “treated”—it’s just a different way of interacting with the world.
With a little bit of education and effort, it’s possible to show your loved ones with autism just how much you care.
So, don’t stress about supporting a loved one with autism. Instead, show them how much you care by learning about the facts, and showing them how they can get support too.