(Photo courtesy of OSFhealthcare.org) Autism Acceptance Month, usually called Autism Awareness Month, is an essential period of the year in the United States. It serves to uplift people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provide the public with solid information about its conditions.
Autism Acceptance Month, usually called Autism Awareness Month, is an essential period of the year in the United States. It serves to uplift people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and provide the public with solid information about its conditions. ASD has become more recognized and understood through the information and guidance given by various advocacy organizations such as Autism Self Advocacy Network or National Autism Association.
There is an effort being made towards replacing “awareness” with “acceptance” by advocacy organizations. Those who are leading the effort to make this change in wording want to remove any stereotypes or negative connotations that people may associate with ASD.
Ashley Hillier, Ph.D., is a professor in the department of psychology at UMass Lowell. She is the co-director of the Center for Autism Research and Education (CARE). Her work related to autism began 25 years ago after finishing her undergraduate program in England.
Hillier worked with children with autism as a classroom assistant many years ago, so her appreciation for Autism Acceptance Month was evident,
“These sorts of events are important because they unite advocacy organizations around the world to amplify their work and build or strengthen connections,” Hillier said.
Autism Acceptance Month was established in 1970 by Autism Society. The organization’s intention was to promote ASD, raise awareness and change society’s perspective on it. Decades ago, ASD lacked research. Even now, the cause of ASD is not yet known or clear, but much more information is available to the public. ASD became more widespread by the early ‘00s due to the work of Autism Society and other organizations and groups.
This year, Autism Society created a campaign called Celebrate Differences. The campaign aims to educate people on ASD and offer resources to people who want to learn more about it. Hillier said another way that people can further their knowledge on ASD is to talk to those with ASD and hear firsthand accounts of their experiences.
On average, children are diagnosed with ASD at three to four years old. ASD is not something that can be cured. Also, people who develop ASD do not always have it passed on by their parents. “Research shows that it is a spontaneous mutation in genes,” Hillier said.
ASD is linked to various conditions that impact a person’s ability to socialize, communicate verbally or nonverbally and avoid repetitive behaviors. ASD does not always affect people in similar manners. Since people with autism are stronger in certain areas than others, their learning ability, problem-solving skills and ways of thinking differ.
Certain people with autism must deal with distinct circumstances. They may require assistance with everyday tasks like eating or showering. Having someone to help them would be significant. Other people with autism, those who do not experience many challenges, can live normally and do not need to depend on another person. Getting married and having children is a possibility for them.
“People with autism experience a full range of emotions. They also have strong attachments to their caregivers and other important people in their lives. They are capable of, and often interested in, forming close relationships with people,” Hillier said.
Depression, anxiety, seizures or sleep disorders are other things that can come along with ASD. Recognizing and treating ASD at an early age can positively impact children in the future. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1 in 54 children have been identified with ASD, and as the years go by, it is more likely that children will be diagnosed with it.
There is plenty of misconception attached to ASD. Hillier said she believes that people should be more familiar with it.
“There is still stigma and discrimination in society when it comes to autism. The more familiar people are with autism, the more they will understand it. In turn, this would build better awareness of autism’s presentation and influence people to be more accepting of it,” Hillier said.
Hillier said she is confident that society’s view on ASD will improve because the younger generation is “more open-minded and embracing of diversity.”
Hillier also said people must be cautious about the way they celebrate Autism Acceptance Month. “People with autism do not like the feeling of being pitied. They don’t see themselves as being in a disastrous situation.”