National Autism Awareness Month

Here's What You Need To Know About Autism, And How To Provide Support For Those Who Need It

April is National Autism Awareness Month.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. To celebrate and bring awareness throughout the month, we will be highlighting positive stories we love about people with autism, as well as the stories of their friends and families. 

While there is a wealth of information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and how it affects those living with it, there are still many misconceptions floating around. To clear the air, we'd like to point out some basic facts about ASD and ways you can help support those with the disorder.

Because if we all had a little more information, and could be a little more understanding of other people's experiences, then, perhaps, we can all make the world a little better, too. 

Autism is developmental.

Autism is a developmental condition under the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), according to the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases chart

It is a spectrum condition.

There are things that are common to all of those who have been diagnosed with ASD. However, there is a range of ways autism can manifest. Everyone with autism experiences it on a spectrum, and no two people experience it in the same way. Some may have learning disabilities, while others may struggle in social situations, others may have sensory sensitivity, while some may experience all of the above and more. 

Asperger syndrome is a condition that is also on the autism spectrum.

It's more common than you think.

Autism Speaks reported that in 2014 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This study revealed one in 68 kids have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

And it's more common for boys. In the same study, the CDC found that approximately one in 42 boys in the United States have ASD, compared to one in 189 girls.

The cause of autism isn't completely clear.

Why some people have autism and some don't isn't clear. However, it is believed that genes play a role

Nature published a study in 2014 where researchers were able to find that mutations in over 100 genes had a connection to the onset of behaviors associated with autism. Furthermore, other studies have found that siblings of kids with autism are more likely to develop ASD.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego were also able to identify environmental and genetic anomalies that were linked to autism when they studied pregnancies retrospectively. 

While we may not know precisely what causes ASD, we do know with certainty that there is no link between vaccines and autism.  

There is no "cure" for it.

Autism is a lifelong condition. While there are numerous ways we can help and support people with autism, there is no "cure" for it in the common sense of the word. Though there are many therapies and resources for people with autism that can help improve their abilities and quality of life.  

Some people with autism are classified as "high functioning."

While some people have learning disabilities and development issues, others have High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Those with High-Functioning Autism often have average to above average IQ levels, but may struggle in social situations. The symptoms can often cause their HFA to be misdiagnosed or missed completely.

People with ASD often experience sensory overload.

Some people with autism experience sensory overload, which can impact the way a person processes sights, sounds, and smells. According to the National Autistic Society, "This is usually called having sensory integration difficulties or sensory sensitivity. It can have a profound effect on a person's life."

To help people who don't experience sensory overload understand what it can be like, the National Autistic Society released a powerful PSA called "Make It Stop" — a video that enables viewers to experience what a day is like for Holly, a 12-year-old girl with autism.  

People with autism can lead normal, full lives.

No matter where people fall on the autism spectrum, they can still learn and develop throughout their lives, just like anyone else. With the right support, they can go on to lead very full lives.

Learning some of the facts about autism is just one of the simple ways you can help support those with autism. Here are other ways you can support those with ASD:

Try to get a better understanding of what it's like living with autism.

Understanding helps to increase compassion. Listen to other people's stories, read up on what some of the symptoms of autism are, and be aware of the ways you can help those with ASD feel more comfortable. 

Realize that a person isn't defined by autism.

While ASD may be an important part of who someone is, it does not define them. 

Get involved in a campaign.

There are numerous autism-related campaigns you can get involved with. Wear an Autism Puzzle Ribbon, get involved with a local autism support group in your area, or speak to friends and family with autism about how you can help. Help spread the world online. As the Autism Society points out, there are several online activities, events, and groups that you can become involved in.

Take to social media.

Social media is a great tool for promoting autism awareness and there have already been many successful social media campaigns that have done just that.  Light It Up Blue, for example, is a campaign where landmarks are illuminated blue, or in a rainbow design, to support autism awareness. As part of the campaign, people also post photos of themselves wearing blue on social media and retweet images of the illuminated buildings.

You don't even need to wait for a trending hashtag to start. Share your stories about autism on your different channels or simply vocalize your support.

Don't forget to donate.

A small donation can provide support to those with autism, and it can help with research in the field. There are numerous places you can donate to, such as the Autism Society or Autism Speaks.

Remember to show compassion.

You don't need to treat someone with autism differently. However, you want the person you're with to be comfortable, so follow their lead. If someone doesn't seem interested in you, or becomes upset with what you're doing, do not take offense, and instead try to understand the reasons why that person may be acting or feeling that way. 

Speak up if you witness something.

Providing support for people who are doing well is key, but it's essential to also stand up for those who need help. Parents of kids with autism have shared stories about how strangers have come to their aid when their families have been struggling.

Cover image via Rido I Shutterstock


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