April has been declared Autism Awareness Month, and many autism organizations have been observing this annual celebration for nearly a decade. During the month, these groups along with parents and teachers will be holding a number of activities designed to teach those around them about this often misunderstood disorder. We at Hit Trophy wish to do our part in shining the light on autism by sharing information about the disorder and presenting ways that people can get involved in Autism Awareness Month.
Autism rates have been on the rise for decades. The Center for Disease Control estimates about 1 in 68 children has been identified with the disorder this year; back in 2000, that rate was 1 in 150. In its report, the CDC goes on to estimate that autism is 4.5 times more common in boys (1 in 42) than in girls (1 in 189). The same report states autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Furthermore, it appears to happen around the globe.
Autism is not a simple condition to recognize because symptoms vary from person to person. According to Autism Speaks, there is not a single type of autism, but many forms of the disorder exist. Doctors have discovered a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. Professionals who study autism now use the term “autism spectrum disorder” to describe the strengths and differences of each person. The cause for autism is controversial, and professionals believe there may be a number of factors including genetic and environmental reasons. No one knows for sure.
Because ASD is so complex, many misconceptions exist about individuals who fall on the spectrum. According to Kyleigh Meeker-Blad, an Intervention Specialist in Northwest Ohio who teaches students with ASD, it is not uncommon for people to misunderstand those with ASD. “I have come across others who have the misconception that a child with autism will have an aggressive and/or defiant behavior, will be self-injurious, and non-verbal. Every child with ASD is different. Not one child is the same; therefore, not all children with ASD have aggressive/defiant behavior, nor will they necessarily be non-verbal or are self-injurious.”
Misconceptions can also cause a barrier for ASD students and such misunderstandings may inhibit students from being placed in their least restrictive learning environment. In the classroom, Meeker-Blad practices patience and understanding with her students. She said, “It is always important to be open minded, put the child first, not the disability, and always remember to embrace all student’s learning styles whether that be visual, auditory, tactile and/or kinesthetic. Students with autism learn just as adequately as students not on the spectrum. Though some students’ curriculum is aligned with the extended standards, many receive curriculum aligned with content standards. Some may perform at a different pace and some with specific accommodations and modifications, but they are all able to learn.”
To help eliminate misapprehensions about ASD, Meeker-Blad plans on participating in Autism Awareness Month this April. “I have student crafts planned that include decorating rainbow ribbons with puzzle pieces to hang on our bulletin board (puzzle pieces represents the diversity, mystery and complexity of ASD), crayon melting activity for “hope”, and decorating informational pages to place in teacher’s mailboxes as a reminder that “we are all different but are all beautiful” teaching others about autism. At my home, I plan to place blue light bulbs in my porch lights to bring awareness of autism in honor of Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Campaign.
If you would like to join Meeker-Blad and hundreds of other teachers and parents of ASD children, many organizations offer opportunities to participate in Autism Awareness Month. If you live in the Northwest Ohio, Meeker-Blad suggests you contact Sandy Cay: The Bryan Center for Autism, P.A.T.H Academy for Autism, Defiance College: The Hench Program, or NAMI of Northwest Ohio. These local organizations can provide more information about ASD and may have local events planned for Autism Awareness Month. Nationally, other resources include Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.
Autism Speaks is sponsoring a LightItUpBlue campaign. Wearing blue on April 2 (and throughout the month) is one way to bring attention to autism. The group’s website has blue merchandise for sale. They also suggest posting reminders on social media about Autism Awareness, such as turning your profile picture blue. For more details click the LightItUpBlue link. Autism Speaks also has a number of activities for classroom teachers who wish to get their students involved in spreading the word about autism. Their Autism Awareness Month Tool Kit includes grade level lesson plans, a materials index, discussion guides, and much more. To get your tool kit or for more information, visit Autism Speaks. The Autism Society of America also has ways to participate in the month long drive to raise awareness. One suggestion they have is displaying an Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon on your car, locker, or refrigerator. These are available on their website. For specific details or materials, click on their Get-Involved link.
A final way to help celebrate Autism Awareness Month is to present our Autism Awareness Award (item #AWD1705) to a teacher, parent, therapist, or any professional who aids our children with ASD. Since the puzzle piece nationally represents the intricacies of Autism Spectrum Disorder, we have designed an award using this symbol. Made from a durable resin and covered in an antique gold finish, our small token of appreciation measures 4.75″ x 8″, and it rests on a black pedestal. On the black base, we have attached an engraving plate for personalization, and our design department will engrave up to five lines of text for free on the plate.
We hope this article has informed you about ASD and Autism Awareness Month. Now we encourage you to get involved. Whether it is wearing blue this month, lighting your house with blue bulbs, or participating in a sponsored event in your community, we hope you will help enlighten others about this growing condition affecting so many of our children.