Keeping Autism Awareness Alive

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Article first published as Keeping Autism Awareness Alive on Technorati.Boy with Autism riding the carousel at the San Francisco ZooToday marks the end of April, and the end of Autism Awareness Month. All month businesses have had special promotions to raise funds for research about this very prominent condition, while also focusing on providing events for families who deal with the condition every day. But, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Black History Month, it seems the public mindset feels they have done what they needed to do when they were assigned to do it, and will move on without another thought. African Americans don't stop contributing to our Country just beacuse it's not February. People don't stop getting breast cancer just because it's not October. And parents, siblings, and children don't stop working with those on the Spectrum just because it's no longer April.So what can you do every day to help someone with who deals with Autism on a daily basis? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Don't Judge: Don't be judgemental of someone who is struggling with their child. Chances are that child may have Autism, even if he doesn't "look" it. Autism doesn't really have a visual cue or physical "look" that identifies it. Children with Autism look just as beautiful as neurotypical children. Parents of children on the Spectrum are acutely aware of their child's behavior, and don't need your reminder. Sometimes a reassuring smile is all you need to give in order to help a parent feel more comfortable.
  2. Don't Stare: Children on the Spectrum are completely aware of their surroundings. They know when you are staring, and they know what proper behavior is supposed to be. They just can't control themselves in their own behavior. Don't stare, because that makes them feel uncomfortable (just as you would feel uncomfortable when someone stares are you). They are real people, and want to be treated as such.
  3. Don't Talk As If They Are Not There: Again, children with Autism are acutely aware of their surroundings (often too aware), and can hear you. Just because they don't speak or don't look at you when you are talking doesn't mean they can't hear you. Let me give you an example. Early in our oldest's diagnosis, we went to IHOP. It was loud, and the service was very slow. Our son became agitated and needed a walk to help calm him down, so I walked him around the unoccupied areas of the restaurant. A patron, talking to her friend, said "I'm glad MY children are all well behaved". This set my son off into another bout of fits. Needless to say, we have never returned to that IHOP again.
  4. Try to Understand: Children with Autism are puzzles. They think differently, have unique perspectives, and want to know all about their world, or at least specific aspects of it. If you take time to watch them, you can gain insights into their world. Just minor glimpses, but it's often enough to hook you in. You will want to learn more, and it becomes an exciting endeavor to become part of their world.

Autism has increased in diagnosis to 1 in 88 children in the US, and 1 in 47 children in Utah (though there are some questions as to those numbers). It's becoming a more common diagnosis in our lives, and is most likely impacting you, the reader, in some form. You may have a child, neice, nephew, cousin, brother, sister, or have a friend that lives with a person on the Spectrum. Instead of writing them off as "stupid", "dumb", or any other adjective that could be applied, start looking at the way they learn, interact, and explore. I can guarantee that your life will change, and definitely for the better.