National Autism Awareness Month, also known as Autism Acceptance Month, has been observed every April since 1972 to promote public awareness and acceptance, improve lifestyles, and expand opportunities for people with autism. Time4Learning serves a large number of families who are homeschooling a child with autism, and we proudly join our nation in recognizing this special month.

What is Autism?

Autism, or, more specifically, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a collection of characteristics that enables a wide range of individuals to fall under the same classification. In other words, if you know one person with ASD, you cannot assume that others with ASD will be anything like that person. According to the diagnostic criteria for ASD, a child with ASD must have deficits in three areas of social communication and interaction, as well as at least two types of restricted, repetitive behaviors. These deficits must also be present during certain life stages, cause significant impairment, and not be due to certain other factors.

In daily life, individuals with ASD are likely to demonstrate difficulties in social interactions, movements, and/or speech and may have challenges adjusting to change. Many individuals with ASD also have heightened or reduced sensory input. This can translate into specific strengths for some individuals with ASD, such as enhanced focus on details, advanced knowledge in particular areas, impressive memories, strong visual thinking abilities, etc., which can make logical or technical tasks easier or creative pursuits enjoyable and awe-inspiring. Differences in opinion, like the emphasis on strengths or challenges and the push for a cure by some families and not others, have created a community that is disjointed even while the need for solidarity remains so important. Autism simply means different things to different people.

What is Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month?

Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month began as an effort by the Autism Society called National Autistic Children’s Week in 1972. National Autism Awareness Month was then officially adopted by Congress in 1984, followed by the design of the autism awareness ribbon in 1999. Broadening the audience, the United Nations officially designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in 2007, leading to its first observance in 2008. Then, on March 4, 2021, the Autism Society of America called for a name change to the national event from Autism Awareness Month to Autism Acceptance Month, pushing society to break down barriers in order to provide families of individuals with autism with the support they need by promoting acceptance.

When Is Autism Awareness Month?

Each April, some families choose to celebrate autism awareness and acceptance by wearing blue, participating in marches and fundraisers, and attending “Light It Up Blue” international events where iconic buildings are bathed in blue light. Other families purposely avoid these festivities and prefer to acknowledge the month and day with more somber reflection. Regardless of your perspective, the purpose of the month and day for autism is to encourage us to pay attention, to understand the experiences of others without judgment, and to empathize and respect those whose strengths and challenges—whose lived experiences—are different from our own.

Observing Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month

As parents, then, how can we best fulfill the objectives of autism awareness and acceptance within our own families? Here are some ideas:

Do some research: Find reputable sources of information for you and your family to learn more about ASD. You may want to explore the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s resources, the National Institute of Mental Health’s Collection of Digital Shareables, or similar sites.

Read books or watch movies: Explore different media to find stories or documentaries about individuals with ASD. Younger children may enjoy the Sesame Street resources on Julia, a character with ASD, or picture books on autism. Older children may enjoy movies or novels and books by Temple Grandin and others.

Model acceptance in the household: Make acceptance and the understanding of differences a priority in your household. Teach your children to embrace the uniqueness of individuals and to have open minds about people who look, speak, or act differently than they do.

Learn American Sign Language: Some individuals with ASD are nonverbal. Learning American Sign Language or some other form of alternative communication can help to bridge our differences in the world.

Volunteer: Become involved in the ASD community by supporting a family, becoming active in an organization, raising money, or simply providing a service that is beneficial to families of individuals with ASD.

The more we learn about ASD, the more we can treat individuals with ASD with compassion and respect. There are plenty of resources for you to build into your afterschool or homeschool family enrichment!

In recognition of Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, we are pleased to share a special blog series by Christina Stiles, a homeschool mom and Time4Learning staff member who has a child with autism. We hope you enjoy reading “Homeschooling Over the Rainbow: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey,” in Part 1, Christina discusses her daughter’s diagnosis and her early elementary years, then in Part 2, she shares why they decided to homeschool and how Time4Learning has helped her daughter thrive!

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