World Autism Awareness Day

World Autism Awareness Day is an international day of awareness for autism that happens every year on April 2.

Although World Autism Awareness Day has already passed, there are still things that autism organizations and average people are doing every day to encourage a healthy dialogue about autism. In fact, the entire month of April is even World Autism Month, or Autism Awareness Month, and national organizations like Autism Speaks spend this month in particular promoting autism awareness and working to end the stigmas surrounding autism.

My brother has autism, so autism awareness has always been something really important to me. There are many common misconceptions about autism, and I think that some people are unintentionally mean or insensitive towards people with autism without realizing it, simply because they don’t know enough about it and aren’t aware that what they are saying could be offensive. That’s only a small reason why World Autism Awareness Day and World Autism Month are so important, because they actively aim to educate people about the issues surrounding autism and work to create a safer and more empathetic environment for people like my brother.

 

What is autism?

Autism is a difficult disorder to describe, as it appears in different ways for different people. However, Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism) defines autism, or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), as a myriad of conditions ranging from repetitive behaviors, speech and communication delays, and challenges with daily social interactions.

Some people with autism may not even be able to speak, while some may have trouble showing their emotions or articulating how they are feeling. Some people with autism may have developmental and educational delays, while some people with autism may have minimal to no delays. To be put simply, autism is known as Autism Spectrum Disorder because it is a spectrum; that is, there are many different subtypes and categorizations of autism, such as PPD-NOS and Asperger’s (although Asperger’s is typically not used anymore).

Because autism appears in many different ways, it can sometimes be hard to diagnose or treat. However, doctors are getting better at diagnosing autism, and autism rates have been exponentially increasing over the last few decades. In fact, there are currently 1 in 59 children in the United States that have autism (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism), so it is becoming even more important to educate and destigmatize, as more and more people are affected by it.

 

What are the issues with society’s current perceptions of autism?

Something that I have noticed about autism is that it tends to completely define a person. Instead of focusing on a person with autism’s personality traits, talents, and interests, they are usually primarily described and defined by their disorder, and I think that this is really unhealthy, not only for people with autism, but also for society’s perceptions of autism.

People with autism are so much more than just their autism. My brother, for example, is really funny. He never fails to make me laugh. And he has a great memory. When he was four years old, he had memorized the entire fifty states and all of their capitals, just for fun. He knows every single episode of SpongeBob, including the release date. He’s a really good singer and likes to dance, and he is really interested in cartoons. There are so many things about him that aren’t just his autism, and those things deserve recognition, too, just as every other person with autism deserves.

Another problem with society’s perceptions of autism is the type of negative language that surrounds autism. People use autism as an insult, saying to their friends, “What, are you autistic or something?” This can be really hurtful and damaging to people that have autism because it implies that having autism makes someone stupid or inferior—which it doesn’t. People that use these insults may or may not realize that they are saying something wrong, but they are, and this type of language needs to stop to help end the stigma.

 

So, how can I help?

There are several ways to show your support of autism and autism awareness, even when it’s not World Autism Awareness Day!

First, you can show your support by wearing blue, as blue is the color for autism awareness!

You can also donate to Autism Speaks or any other autism organization that is working to end the stigma, spread awareness, and find new treatments and solutions for the disorder.

Lastly, and perhaps the easiest thing you can do, despite it being cheesy, is to just be kind and understanding of others. We all have our differences, whether we have a diagnosed disorder or disability or not, but what is more important than that is all of our similarities that we share. We are all human and we all have our own problems, which is why we need to come together, help each other, and be kind—even if we may not feel like it.

One quote that I love that I think sums all of this up is one by writer Barry Neil Kaufman, who once said, “The way we choose to see the world creates the world we see.”