Friday, 2nd April is World Autism Awareness Day and the theme for the year is “Light It Up Blue” in recognition of people with autism and those who love and support them.
The Autism Awareness Day is meant to recognise and celebrate the rights of persons with autism. This condition begins during childhood and tends to persist into adolescence and adulthood.
Autism refers to a range of conditions characterised by some degree of impaired social behaviour, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are unique to the individual and are carried out repetitively.
Because of ignorance, people with autism are often subject to human rights violations, discrimination and stigma.
This needs to stop!
So, what can you do to support persons living with autism and those who care for them?
The first step is to get knowledgeable of these special needs individuals.
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with or relates to others. This might lead to them being seen as anti-social, sometimes unresponsive which isn’t always the case. They may find it difficult to express what they need and how they feel, which can make life extremely challenging at times.
Autism is a spectrum. While there are generally common traits with people living with autism, each autistic individual(s) is/are affected in different ways. This may make it more difficult to understand, but it’s very important you treat everyone with autism as you would anyone else, as individuals.
You cannot tell a person has autism just by looking at them. Autism is what is sometimes called an ‘invisible’ disability because autistic individuals do not come with a certain look. Telling someone “oh you don’t look autistic” is never a good thing to say.
Autism can affect how a person is able to make sense of the world around them. This confusion can most times cause anxiety and behaviours you might feel are strange. Just be patient and try to understand.
Not everyone with autism has a ‘special ability’. Please don’t assume that they do. When someone tells you their son has autism, don’t ask them “ah, ok, are they exceptional at maths?”
Nobody knows the cause of autism. Although, there are a lot of claims and theories, no one has proven a definitive answer. What causes autism is not the most important thing to consider but how we accept and enhance the lives of people living with autism.
Somebody having a meltdown is not the same as someone having a tantrum. There is a big difference because during a meltdown a person loses control of their feelings and actions which can often lead to self-harming or self-injurious behaviours. Getting angry and frustrated with the affected ones when they do this does not help, what they really need is compassion. Also, telling someone they should teach their child how to behave is highly insensitive.
Not all therapies work for everyone. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different therapies out there for individuals with autism. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. A pet might calm and soothe one person and for another it might be petrifying. A gluten-free diet might work for someone, but not for another.
For a practical knowledge on how to care for people with autism, read this awesome interview Ibiene had with Beauty Kumesine who cares for Children with Autism.
Now with this awareness, let’s work on greater acceptance and understanding for every individual on the spectrum.
Happy World Autism Awareness Day!