April has a lot more to it than plenty of rain fall and Earth Day. The entire month is dedicated to autism awareness with April 2 designated as Autism Awareness Day—as recognized by the UN in 2007—when people, houses, and cars all don the color of blue to help increase awareness about this all-too common disorder. While we are already past the second of April, there is still much that volunteers and advocates for autism can accomplish during the month.
Thirty years ago, awareness of autism and how to interact with individuals with autism was desperately needed as autism diagnoses were far and few between and the condition was largely misunderstood. However, with 1 in 68 children now receiving diagnoses that place them somewhere on the autism spectrum, the condition is much better understood and some parents feel that the month should focus more on action than just awareness.
However, by promoting greater awareness of just what individuals and families must contend with to provide their children with autism with a supportive and productive household, the month is a great way to dispel common myths that still exist about autism and provide willing advocates with the tools they require to help out friends and family members with autism.
The organization Autism Speaks is a leading proponent of the month and as such, they have a number of initiatives that can help to better educate schools and communities. One example of this is the Puzzle Piece Project Tool Kit that is an education tool kit designed for students in grades K-12 to increase their understanding. Developed by a special education teacher for other teachers, the tool kit includes a special lesson plan for the month, extended activities, materials, and important internet resources.
Another initiative the group has organized especially for Autism Awareness Day is the Light It Up Blue Campaign in which towns and cities around the world shine a blue light on homes, icons, and famous buildings to raise awareness in the general population about the condition. The campaign has resulted in individuals and groups around the world uniting to promote awareness in their community, as exemplified by Tammy Oliver in Eaton Rapids, Michigan who this year will gather with 300 of her fellow citizens in the middle of the town and embark on a Light the Town Blue walk.
However, Autism Awareness Month does not end and begin at the color blue. In fact, many parents, advocates, and volunteers have increasingly used the month to focus on providing others with actionable information and plans that will better help them to support those dealing with autism in their family.
One way to do this is to start a fundraiser for the month of April with all of the proceeds going to organizations dedicated to finding better treatments for and research into autism. However, money is only one part of the equation. Similar to Autism Speaks’ Puzzle Piece Tool Kit, more and more volunteers and advocates are realizing the importance of imparting autism education to neurotypical students—from Kindergarten through college levels—so that students can better understand and support their classmates with autism.
However you decide to recognize Autism Awareness Month, just by getting out there and educating others about the condition can have a truly significant and positive effect on both better understanding the condition and encouraging others to action.