World Autism Day is a day dedicated to celebrating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), improving our understanding of autism, and encouraging world autism awareness. In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged that World Autism Day would occur every year on April 2nd.
Improving world autism awareness is vital as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 54 children have been identified with ASD. The ethos of World Autism Day is all about recognizing what makes these individuals so unique, and understanding how we, as a society, can embrace and accommodate their needs.
World Autism Day 2020
The theme of World Autism Day 2020 was ‘the transition to adulthood’. This is an important element of autism and one that is often overlooked. As children with ASD become adults, how do we make sure they are an understood, valued, and productive part of our communities? It all comes down to understanding autism and embracing world autism awareness.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the differences that are evident for people living with autism to enable greater awareness and understanding of autistic behavior.
A key element of world autism awareness is having an understanding of social behaviors. One of the earliest signs of autism is a difference in social skill abilities or lack thereof. For those living with ASD, the ability to make eye contact, communicate, speak, play, or engage in joint attention (such as mimicking what others do) is, in most cases, depleted, or at least not very strong.
On World Autism Day, it’s important to raise awareness of the tools that can help autistic individuals improve their social skills. For some, using communication tools like phones, iPads, and communication boards can help, but for others, even those tools are not helpful. Even so, an electronic device used for communication is void of certain face to face attributes and does not open a connection or what we know as real human interaction.
There are many instances where animals can assist in this area. Having a pet can open dialog, provide comfort, and help engage. One thing for sure is that these human interactive qualities are not usually innate in those with sensory differences and must be taught.
Social skills classes or one-on-one therapies can make a tremendous difference in the ability to socialize, as can focused groups like specialized summer programs, or summer camps. Having these experiences can make the difference between being isolated and having a social network.
Perhaps it’s due to differences in muscle tone, or maybe just living with a uniquely different brain, but individuals with autism often have difficulty with motor planning, coordination, and balance activities. This may also create separation in social abilities, and feelings of low self-esteem.
However, adapted physical education, physical therapy, or specialized training/classes in sports such as rock climbing, swimming, biking, skiing, or hiking can provide the movement that is crucial to overall well-being. Encouraging autistic children to continue these activities into adulthood is important, and plays into the theme of World Autism Day 2020.
Movement acts as a sensory filter, reducing extraneous movements like hand flapping, and raising endorphin levels. Individuals with ASD can often learn to do just about any activity with the right patience and support.
We all struggle with our emotions at some time in our lives, but for those with ASD, it can be a moment-to-moment struggle. Understanding the emotional challenges that autistic individuals struggle with is vital for improving world autism awareness and compassion. It also raises awareness of how to adapt to better support those with ASD.
Learning to regulate emotion can take a team and family approach that includes looking for signs of emotional instability and learning to catch emotional outbursts before they occur.
Using emotional regulation tools such as a multisensory room, a visual tracker that displays emotional feelings, or regular therapy and medication can help individuals regulate and become aware of their emotional needs.
Many individuals on the autism spectrum engage in stimming or self-stimulatory behavior. Stimming describes repetitive movements that stimulate the brain. Understanding stimming and what it means is a key component of world autism awareness.
Some people argue that stimming is beneficial and can help people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to focus. Others say that it needs to be somewhat regulated, as there is the potential for certain types of stimming to be damaging.
For people who engage in stimming, it can be a regulator for both under-stimulation and over-stimulation. For example, if someone feels under-stimulated, stimming can help them fully feel parts of their body when perhaps they couldn’t before. On the other hand, in situations where there might be too much going on, this may lead someone to feel over-stimulated. Stimming, in this case, can help to relax and focus.
A multisensory room can be of great help here, as they have many benefits for those with ASD. Multisensory rooms help provide the right level of stimulation for people with autism and can be both calming and focusing.
Ways to Get Involved with World Autism Day
Raising world autism awareness and increasing global acceptance of autism is a continuous process. Most people know autism exists, so World Autism Day and the phrase ‘raising awareness’ is about helping people understand autism to a greater degree. Here are a few ways you can get involved with World Autism Day every year:
- Use your social media accounts to spread awareness to your family, friends, and followers.
- Watch films, television shows, documentaries, and TED Talks about autism.
- Read blogs by autistic individuals or by the parents and carers of autistic individuals.
- Read books about autism. And, if you have children, read kid-friendly books about autism to them.
- Join an Autism Speaks Walk in your area and raise funds.
- Wear the color blue, the official color of autism.
- Wear a blue, world autism awareness ribbon or pin.
- Organize your own fundraiser, whether that’s running a certain number of miles or setting up a bake sale.
Money generated through fundraising is a fantastic resource for many public institutions, as many autism charities circulate funds and grants into schools, libraries, and care facilities. This means that there is greater access to learning and social support for people in schools and career development skills for teenagers and adults with ASD.
Charities use money raised to help on a far-reaching scale. Money raised from donations to the Autism Society, for example, help to maintain national resource databases and to raise public awareness of everyday issues that autistic people face.
The ultimate aim for all of this is to have a fully supportive society for both children and adults with autism. It’s the little things that matter. For example, AMC Theatres runs regular sensory-friendly screenings, where the lights are up, and the sound is turned down, and people are encouraged to interact with the movie. This allows people with autism or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) to enjoy movies in an accessible environment.
World Autism Day is an important day to recognize, learn about, and celebrate if we want to support those with ASD fully and truly improve world autism awareness.
For more resources and information on ASD, have a read of our blog.