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April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to empower those who are on the spectrum. During this month, we spread awareness of people living with autism and celebrate our differences. However, as society continues to grow, we need to do more than just be aware of autism. We need to move towards acceptance.

In 1970, the Autism Society began an ongoing nationwide effort to promote autism awareness to help people with autism get the highest quality of life possible. The Autism Society later created the first annual National Autistic Children’s week in 1972. This initiative evolved into Autism Awareness Month and is now Autism Acceptance Month (AAM).

“Together, with other national autism organizations, we are leading the legislative effort for lawmakers to federally and globally designate April as Autism Acceptance Month, a shift from the commonly used phrase ‘Autism Awareness Month,’” declares the Autism Society of America (ASA).

Throughout April, we must emphasize our initiatives to raise awareness, promote acceptance and create change.

The ASA reports that 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. With over 5 million people diagnosed in the United States, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the country.

Statistics from the CDC reveal that the prevalence rate for autism spectrum disorder was only 1 in 150 in the year 2000, exhibiting a significant increase in the past 21 years.

“Recognizing this continued increase, the goal for AAM is to further increase awareness about autism signs, symptoms and opportunities through: information and referrals, events, printable and digital resources, and community partnerships with businesses and organizations dedicated to building inclusive experiences,” tells the ASA.

As we celebrate this month, there are some easy ways to get involved with autism acceptance.

First, you can educate the youth about their peers with autism. Raising awareness allows for more understanding of the disability. It is not something scary.

Another way to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month is to empower the autism community by implementing educational resources and inclusion activities.

Always presume intellect. Being non-verbal or struggling in communication does not mean that a person is not intelligent or has nothing to say. Much of a person’s behavior can be used to communicate with others, but not everyone has the same strengths or passions. Find other ways to communicate with this person. Do not leave people out because they struggle with communication.

“If we wish to understand autism, we must be willing to enter their world, not force them to enter our own,” says Dan L. Edmunds from Psychology Today.

Additionally, you can support organizations that strive to assist people with autism with the challenges that are often overlooked.

Hire Autism is an initiative to help employ people with autism across the United States. It offers a job board, direct access to local employment opportunities, a profile builder, job applications and other resources for the workplace.

Donations can also be made towards funding and assisting those who need help in the autism community. Be sure to research the organization thoroughly to ensure that your values align with their goals before you donate. Some popular autism charities include The Asperger/Autism Network, Autism Connect Association, The Autism National Committee and more.

The more we educate the public about autism, the more understanding there will be — leading to acceptance and appreciation.

“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” says Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”

Awareness is not enough anymore. People with autism need acceptance and empowerment. It’s time to shift the language and begin the movement towards embracing those on the spectrum.

This April, celebrate differences in your community. Spread awareness, take action and attend virtual events.

 

Hope Nguyen is a second-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing, photography, cheese fries, politics and One Direction.
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