For some of us, it’s that time of year again. April is Autism Awareness Month, and, just 2 years ago, President Obama asked the nation to recognize April 2nd as Autism Awareness Day, a day to bring light to what is a growing public health concern.
While public perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) has evolved over the years, for the other half of us, April 2nd is just another early spring day. When I ask my friends and family who are far removed from the mental health field what they know about autism, I hear things like, “All people with autism are savants in some way,” or “All people with autism are mentally retarded.” Often, the stereotypical rocking child comes to mind. Most have never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (HFA).
These myths and stereotypes are most likely due to poor mental health education and fueled by film and television that popularize interesting, yet uncommon aspects of the disorder. The effect is that children and families struggling with this developmental disorder have to fight ignorance and stereotypes everywhere in their life.
So, what should people know about autism? ASD is currently thought to affect 1 in 88 children, and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is characterized by social, cognitive, and communicative impairments. However, most children with autism develop at a similar rate as their non-autistic peers, many have average or above average IQ, and not all display language problems or repetitive behaviors, particularly those with HFA or Asperger’s. More than likely, you know or knew someone at your high school or university that is affected by ASD. And, most importantly, not all cases of autism look the same from person to person. This makes education about and for autism complex and important.
Danya has a rich history in autism education. We have developed programs and products to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and support from experts in the field and families affected by ASD. Currently, Danya is offering free viewings for research-based, high-quality videos from our autism products online. Videos to promote social inclusion in elementary and middle school settings by teaching neurotypical peers about ASD and increasing awareness about autism in elementary school staff; videos to support adolescents and young adults with ASD in planning, applying for, and transitioning into a postsecondary educational setting; and videos to reduce stress and anxiety in caregivers of individuals with autism across the lifespan are all available to view now on AutismOnline’s YouTube channel.
Currently, the Danya team is working on an educational curriculum for parents of teens with autism to teach their child about relationships, dating, sexuality, and sexual health. An interactive, web-based video game for teens is also being developed as a complement to the course.
So, what can you do to recognize Autism Awareness Month and celebrate all that science and research has done for this developmental disability? I suggest you strive to tell one person, whether it be a friend, coworker, or neighbor, about Autism. Let them know what you know and ask them to share this information with another person themselves in honor of Autism Awareness Month.
If you want to learn more about ASD, or about other ways you can support Autism Awareness Month, please check out some of these important sites. Connect with Autism Speaks and help them “Light it up Blue” on April 2nd. Visit the Autism Science Foundation to help support autism research, or check out AutismOnline, Danya’s website devoted to providing research-based, effective resources, products, and information on ASD across the lifespan.
By Amanda Bowen