April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and the month of April has been deemed Autism Acceptance Month. Let’s Light it Up Blue and support acceptance and inclusion of people with autism! Unfortunately, despite its prevalence in today’s society, many people still don’t understand this spectrum disorder.
So what is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? It is a range of conditions typically characterized by challenges with social skills and communication difficulties. It affects 1 in 54 children in the United States today. Since it is a spectrum, people with autism can range anywhere from needing significant support in everyday life to living completely independently. It is important for us to understand, include, and normalize those who have this condition.
So what should the general public know? First, people on the autism spectrum are all different. They do however, share some similar characteristics. People with ASD often:
- struggle with social norms, facial expressions, and feelings
- tend to be very literal, having difficulty understanding nuanced speech
- display repetitive behaviors
- have a sensitivity to sensory stimuli such as light and noise
- can be non-verbal or struggle with self-expression
- require structure and repetition and have trouble deviating from that
- can get highly agitated due to an inability to express their feelings
- struggle simultaneously with other medical issues and/or mental health challenges
Remember, some people with ASD may have many or all of these characteristics, while others may only display one or two. The biggest challenge to supporting people with autism and their families is getting others to understand and include people with autism. One way to do this is to normalize it. Many of the strategies that help children with autism are also great for all children. Using dimmer lighting and softer voices and having a schedule so children know what to expect throughout the day are strategies used for children with autism that are effective with all children.
It is up to all of us to accept children with autism for who they are and not try to change them. One excellent way to do this is to interact with all types of people. Schools are using inclusion much more frequently these days which definitely helps all children interact with each other. Another way is through reading about your world. There are books for children of all ages to help understand each other. Below, you'll find some of my favorite books involving children with autism. For more great suggestions, check out our Dive into Diversity posts last April, and this book list for tweens from Brightly.
Finally, join Turtle Dance Music for a special inclusive, neurodiverse event for children and teens of all abilities for Autism Acceptance Month. Families will dance, sing along, and hear stories and songs about autism advocates who have had incredible success in their lives and careers. The event will take place on Thursday, April 22 at 11:00 a.m.; click here for event details.
A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song
This beautifully simple picture book never mentions anything about autism. It simply shows Henry’s thought process and actions as he attempts to make new friends in his classroom. It shows good examples of how literal some children with autism can be and how it can impede their social interactions. It also shows how simple kindness can overcome these difficulties.
My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shane W. Evans
This picture book is a collaboration between mother and daughter to celebrate their son/twin, Charlie. It is from the perspective of the twin sister, rather than the child with autism. It’s an interesting way to look at autism and shows both the challenges and beauty of this disorder. Children learn that although a person with autism may not verbalize their feelings, they still show them in their actions.
A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Tim Probert
This middle grade novel, the first in a series, is fun and fantastic for basketball fans. Best friends Rip and Red have a new teacher who is also their basketball coach. His eccentric methods in the classroom and on the court throw off both boys, but especially Red, who thrives on routine. Red’s difficulties are handled with care and love and Bildner paints a picture of how successful a child with autism can be with a supportive community around him.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Marcelo is a teen with high-functioning ASD (the book refers to it as Asperger’s, but that term is no longer used) who goes to a private school for people with various disabilities. He is comfortable with his life there, but his high achieving lawyer father wants him to get “real world” experience by working in his law firm for the summer. Stork does a great job of detailing how Marcelo’s brain works, while also bringing up other interesting issues like ethics in law, faith, and the basis of attraction. Overall, a very interesting read.