Since the 1970s, April has been known as Autism Awareness Month. But this year, the team at the University of Virginia’s Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) initiative share that leading organizations across the nation have begun calling April Autism Acceptance Month.
“Using this new language emphasizes the need that remains for acceptance across the autism community,” said Moira Johnson, research associate at STAR.
According to the Autism Society of Central Virginia, Autism Acceptance Month aims to foster acceptance through improved support and opportunities in education, employment, accessible housing, affordable health care, and comprehensive long-term services.
In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, the team at STAR reached out to individuals with autism to share their ideas on ways to educate the general community about autism.
“Our focus over the past several months has been growing our digital community of self-advocates and family members called Voices of Autism,” Johnson said. “We want this platform to amplify the voices of people in our community who have lived experience with autism. This is important to help spread awareness of the incredible diversity within this community and to bridge the gap between our research (that aims to improve systems and services) to the everyday experiences of people living with autism.”
The contributors submitted resources for five topics from experiencing autism, to life in schools, to having kid-friendly conversations about autism. Below is a portion of the most recent STAR newsletter featuring these submissions.
A family shared that one of the most helpful experiences they were provided as "neuro-typical" parents of a child with autism were sensory scenarios that recreated a distracted, overstimulated, noisy, bright, or surprised environment. Experiencing a small part of what their child went through every day helped them learn ways to use person-centered strategies and be inclusive and culturally sensitive.
- Carly's Café - Experience Autism Through Carly's Eyes
- What it's like to walk down a street when you have autism or an ASD
- Sensory Overload Simulation
- Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project)
Start in Schools
Schools are one of the primary sources of disability education for the general public, so they should include age-appropriate curricula to explain autism and other disabilities as part of their everyday lessons. Teaching children from a young age about disabilities will only help normalize differences and create a more inclusive world over time.
- Easterseals: Friends Who Care
- Learning for Justice: Understanding Disabilities
- Disability curriculum for school divisions: Understanding Disabilities
Seek Support Groups
Finding people who understand how you feel and what you are going through can make all the difference. If you are an adult with autism struggling to find a job or a parent with a newly diagnosed child, you may find many others who are willing to share their experiences to make it easier for others.
- The Autism Society of Central Virginia has many groups available, from support groups to high-interest social opportunities.
- Virtual support groups have been around for a long time. Meet Up has a variety of groups available for individuals with autism.
- The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University of Florida offers parent support groups, virtual "meet and greets," and more.
Foster Kid-Friendly Conversations
You can find many resources to explain what autism is in developmentally appropriate language. Start these conversations with your children early, even if you don't have a child with autism. When we as a community talk openly about disabilities and differences, they become more accepted.
- Julia, a Sesame Street character, has made autism easier to understand for children of all ages.
- Amazon has a huge selection from books about autism for all ages, including younger children and teens.
- Social stories are also a great way to help explain what autism is to children with autism, their friends, and their siblings!
Accept and Love Who You Are
For many people with autism, accepting who they are has been a difficult journey. Do not give up if you have found obstacles and barriers to understanding and accepting yourself. One adult with autism said, "I love this journey because the entire time I keep finding myself saying, ‘So that's why!’ Some call it a 'label.' I call it hope."
- Kerrin McLean, "Life of an Aspie" blogger, outlines how to accept your autism in a comprehensive guide.
- Sam Farmer explains on how he came to love himself on the Asperger/Autism Network.
- Support people with autism. From authors to artists, seek out individuals with autism and recognize their amazing contributions to the world.
The STAR team will collect works from artists for their campaign called “Talents of Autism” to feature in upcoming newsletters. Individuals can submit pieces via the online form through April 30. To see more resources and current research, visit https://autismdrive.virginia.edu. You can sign up for the STAR monthly newsletter at http://education.virginia.edu/star.