Every April, bright, colorful puzzle pieces begin to appear all around us on social media, television, and storefront advertisements. World Autism Month is a great time to spread awareness for a disorder that affects so many. With 1 in 54 children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it has touched most of us in one way or another.
Of course, we can all raise awareness by "Lighting It Up Blue" on Autism Awareness Day (April 2nd) or by wearing a puzzle piece pin that grabs others' attention, but what are some ways that we can really make a difference?
1. Learn About ASD
Use World Autism Month as a time to educate yourself about ASD. Organizations like Autism Society and Autism Speaks have lots of great articles. Learn the facts and characteristics to understand better the challenges people with ASD and their families face. You never know; having the knowledge and knowing the early signs of ASD may help you in the future.
Although I grew up very closely with someone diagnosed with ASD, I was shocked by how little I knew about it until I began educating myself. Like any disorder, people with ASD can present many different signs and symptoms. There are also different severity levels of the symptoms and how they affect the individual's daily life, which is why autism is considered a "spectrum" disorder.
On a recent Living Local Carolina segment, we sat down with Jamie Daskalis, whose son James has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Nicole Young-Cline, Owner and Director of Young Talkers, a local pediatric therapy clinic. Talking to these ladies was so informative because they were knowledgeable about the different signs and characteristics of individuals on the spectrum. There are so many available therapies and resources for people with ASD that I was unfamiliar with, most of which have developed over time, as ASD awareness has increased.
2. Use Social Media
Once you've educated yourself about ASD, spread your knowledge like wildfire. Social Media is a phenomenal resource for raising awareness because you can reach so many people at once. Share facts, stories, early signs, and any information you think would help your friends and family learn more about ASD. Every day in April, Jamie Daskalis, who is also the Owner of Johnny D's Waffles and Benedicts, uses the restaurant's Facebook page to share the story of someone diagnosed with ASD. To spread awareness, you can like Jamie's page, read the stories, and share them. You never know who in your life the stories may impact.
3. Be Supportive
Showing that you're open to learning is an excellent step in the right direction towards supporting those with ASD. However, I encourage you to do more—practice inclusion and understanding. If you know someone with ASD, consciously think about the new things you've learned and do your best to be accommodating. A crucial part of awareness is taking the information you've gained and acting on it.
So, this April, continue lighting it up blue and displaying your puzzle piece, but don't forget to take that extra step further to learning about and spreading awareness for ASD.