5 Ways to Spread Autism Awareness When April Is Over

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cameron in a puzzle shirt
My son

As a practitioner and mother of a child diagnosed on the spectrum, the end of April tends to be a bittersweet time for me; it’s when Autism Awareness Month comes to a close. 

April is a time that brings the autism community together through events that raise awareness and money for research. 

April is an opportunity for individuals who are not aware, to learn and open up their eyes to the world that has been blessed by people with autism.

We get 30 days to connect with people who share a commonality and grow awareness.

I love all thirty of those days… Not just because I can get away with putting on multiple shades of blue at one time, sport puzzle piece knee high socks and wear a superman cape (even though I look pretty awesome running errands in that getup).   

I love those days because it gives me the opportunity to continuously educate others about an amazing group of people who are too often misunderstood. 

I love those days because they remind me I’m not alone in this journey and there are thousands of other people walking on the same road with me. 

I have noticed that after April, the drive to spread awareness isn’t as strong; the social media posts, events and marketing of educational material begins to die down. 

Imagine the impact that would be made if awareness was spread with the same drive and dedication the other 11 months out of the year.

Come May I will continue to speak out, share my stories and educate. I will continue to wear my blue and puzzle pieces proud. I encourage others to do the same.

The awareness of autism has come a long way over the past few years, from different research studies to well known events and books that educate our society and support the autism community.

Here are five tips that you can use that can help spread autism awareness through the year:

1. Read

Reading is key! You cannot spread awareness unless you know what autism is. Find material both written by professionals and by people diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Both will give you the perspectives you need to educate and talk about autism.   

2. Use social media

Social media gives us the opportunity to reach out to millions of people in seconds. Creating Facebook pages, blogs and websites that provide factual information about autism are ways to connect with the autism community, for someone from the autism community to receive needed information, as well as insight and for pretty much anyone to learn about what autism is.

3. Attend events

Attend and/or organize autism awareness events or fundraisers. Many events include resource fairs with autism-focused participating organizations. Many of these organizations provide a service or sell a product that benefits the autism community. 

4. Build programs

Participate in or organize mentorship programs. Education is needed for awareness to spread, and starting programs that pair typically developing children with children with autism teaches understanding and acceptance at a young age. 

5. Hang out

What better way is there to learn about autism than to either spend time with someone diagnosed with autism or hear them speak about their own experiences? Even though everyone’s experience is different, it will provide you with so much insight about the daily life of someone on the autism spectrum. 

Choosing to do just one of these makes a difference. It begins to shorten the gap of misunderstanding and begins to build acceptance of some of the most beautiful, unique and smart people. 

I encourage you to use these tips to learn about autism, then use your knowledge to educate others and spread the word all year long.

Follow this journey on NatalieChase.

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Why Can't the World See Autism as a Positive?

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Autism is usually not seen as a good thing in this world.

But did you know Israeli army recruits people with autism to do specific jobs, such as find details in maps? I have autism and am proud. I’m not saying there aren’t those tough days where I just want to say, “Why me, God?” but I have a purpose on this planet and have autism for a reason. I see the world differently.

julia on graduation day

Without autistic people, a lot of innovations may not exist — such as Windows computers. It’s been suggested that Bill Gates is on the autism spectrum. I was diagnosed with autism at age 18, and because of my extremely supportive mother finally received that correct diagnosis. Why people don’t want to understand us and help us is beyond me.

I surprise myself sometimes (and laugh a lot) with the things I come up with. Autism is one of the greatest gifts this world has to offer, and society has to see that by learning from people who have autism and live with it every single day.

julia in a field

I am an individual with an exceptionally bright and unique mind; without my autism I do not think I would be such a great artist or have the phenomenal memory that I have. I love being unique and wouldn’t change it for the world. 

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Relief: Receiving an Autism Diagnosis as an Adult

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becca lory I’m often asked what it felt like to get an autism diagnosis at age 36. As an active autism advocate, writer and public speaker, when I say often… I mean often.

struggled for a while with how exactly I could describe that moment. One day I realized I was struggling not because I didn’t have an answer, but rather because it wasn’t one single moment. It was a series of moments. There was the moment I first read about autism, the moment I decided to seek a diagnosis, the moment I began my evaluation, the moment I was told the test results, and, most importantly, the moment I first said it aloud about myself. I am autistic. But the one single word that ties all of those moments together is relief. Yes, relief.

I’d been told for as long as I can remember that I was stubborn, lazy, manipulative, overdramatic and mean. At the early age of 5 or 6, I had been to the first of countless psychologists and psychiatrists who would over the years label me as school phobic, social phobic, depressed and anxious. From my early teens on, I had been medicated for everything from panic disorder to manic depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Basically, I had spent a lifetime hearing that something was wrong with me and worse, believing to my deepest core that I was broken and unfixable. As soon as I stumbled upon what was then called Asperger syndrome, now Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I knew my life would never be the same. What I didn’t know was how much better it could be. 

I remember the day I read about autism for the first time. I remember the day I began my evaluation. I remember the day I was told I officially belonged on the autism spectrum and I remember the day I first said aloud, “I am autistic.” What I remember about those days is both good and bad. None of it was easy. Yet along with each and every moment of that part of my journey, I evolved, I learned, I grew and I was relieved. 

I was not broken. I was not unfixable. I was not a lost cause. And most of all, I was not alone. 

It turns out there are a lot of us who have survived decades without the skill sets we require, without having our needs addressed, without the proper vocabulary to describe what is happening in our brains and bodies, and without knowing why the world feels so much like an alien planet. But I am one of the lucky ones. I know now. I can adapt to my needs, face my challenges and enjoy my gifts. I even get to share my experiences and educate others about what it is like to process the world through a unique filter. I am part of an incredibly supportive and loving community that we call the spectrum. And it is a relief. Being able to love yourself for exactly who you are is a relief. Having others love you for it too is an even bigger relief.

I am a woman. I am an adult. I am autistic. And I am proud!

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To Susan Boyle, You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Meltdown

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Dear Susan Boyle,

To have a high public profile where your movements and vulnerabilities are recorded must be so difficult to handle. It was with sadness we read firstly of your meltdown at Heathrow Airport and then later, a report that you felt the need to apologize. A meltdown is the result of an unmet need and can leave us feeling very drained and (unjustified) remorse, embarrassment and upset. This is very different from an outburst, a tantrum, of which we have some level of control to manage and may need to reflect and apologize.

Autistic people live in a world not designed for how we experience it, for the way we relate to others and the way we naturally communicate. Every time we walk outside our door, we make reasonable adjustments for others without autism, who are in the majority. The negative messages we receive are that non-autistic people are the skilled communicators, that they are the ones who have empathy and unfortunately they, as the majority, hold the power to make the decisions to include us and about the policies that affect us. Autistic rights, our way of being, are seldom recognized — often unless we are male children with the voices of non-autistic parents and parent-led charities speaking over us and for us. As you experienced, this world we often collide with has little understanding of autism as it manifests in an adult female form. As a woman with special needs managing these situations alone, it can be frightening.

Many autistic people have been to airports. The bright fluorescent lights that can blind us. The anticipation of where we are going and the change that trip means to our usual routines. The passing through security, requiring undressing of shoes, belts, coats and the brief separation from the electronic gadgets that are our connection to our online communities and peer support networks. The body contact and touch of security people. The anxious wait, checking electronic boards to know which gate our plane will depart from and the inevitable rush of people and their bags to jostle for position in lines. The enclosed space of an airplane and the women who surely must have bathed in perfume from the way it fills our senses and turns our stomachs. The closeness of strange males near us, which for many of us, can be a trigger to incidents from the past.

Susan, you found yourself in a situation where your system was assaulted by an onslaught of stimuli too overwhelming to process and manage alone — a feeling your autistic peers know all too well. For some of us, we silently bear it, we shut down. For some of us, we panic and look for ways to escape. For some of us, we get mouthy, and that is seen to be aggressive and rude.

I hope that the advisors around you understand that an apology as a form of damage control is not warranted. You cannot help the way you are. It is not a choice, it is how we as autistic people are programmed. Buildings and airports and public places do have a choice, they can decide if their spaces will be inclusive of us or not. Your experience has the potential to teach Heathrow Airport to do better by you and by the autistic people that pass through their terminals.

If you feel you need to apologize, I hope you have loving support around you. I hope those people are telling you, you did the best you could do in that moment. That you are OK. That they will help you to identify your own triggers so future distress can be minimized. We live in hope to see examples of the empathy and great communication skills of the non-autistic world while waiting for them to meet us at least half way. Because having autism, and having your needs unmet, is not a reason to write a letter of apology.

Loving support from,

Your friends at Autism Women Matter

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8 Words That Changed How I View the Word 'Normal' After My Daughter's Autism Diagnosis

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“Normal” is such a weird word. To me, it has connotations of boring, unexciting, run-of-the-mill. I would never want to be referred to as “normal” — I feel it is bland, safe and average. But “normal” can also mean the center, the equilibrium, the thing that always happens, nothing bad, nothing too extreme, just the everyday stuff that goes on. I always felt that “normal” was some badge of acceptance, that you have managed to achieve a middling level of human ability; you were not odd, you were not different, you did not stand out, and in my naive young mind, I thought that everyone’s “normal” was the same. That everyone was striving to be the same “normal,” that we were all connected to a collective brain that pulled and pushed us to conform. That there was a “normal” ideal that we were all striving for, and any deviation from this goal was wrong.

The day our daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will forever be etched in my memory, a date in the diary that will ping with recollection as each year goes by — but I will also remember one key phrase the consultant uttered. This phrase was like an illuminated neon sign in a sea of muted words, ideas, strategies and diagnoses that would require many weeks and months for them to be truly understood. That simple, life-changing phrase was: “Your normal will not be anyone else’s normal.”

In those eight words, he summed up a mantra by which I can live, subtly confident in our own abilities, suggesting that molds would be broken, rulebooks rewritten and our own furrow ploughed. It was the light-bulb moment that no, what is “normal” for us is most definitely not “normal” for others. And guess what, there is nothing wrong with that (if only I could go back in time and tell my teenaged self that). He was basically telling us that the way in which we do things to accommodate the strengths and challenges of our wonderful girl on a minute-by-minute basis will most definitely set us apart from how other people behave. From letting her eat vegetables first, then protein, then carbs, ensuring there is exactly half a teaspoon of hot chocolate powder on top of the hot chocolate, to our “in” and “out” trays for homework, to the visualization of a venue we have never visited before, to the bedtime routine that may seem odd to others, that is our “normal.” Our “normal” suits us; it has been lovingly crafted, put to the test many times, reworked, adjusted and continually tweaked. Our “normal” is what works for us, and I couldn’t give a monkey’s if it is seen as “abnormal” by others. I’m pretty sure their “normal” would seem “abnormal” to us. For the first time in my life I can safely say that I’m happy with “normal.”

Follow this journey on Coloring Outside The Lines.

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When Strangers Say They 'Can Tell' My Son Has Autism

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My son was running away from me in the supermarket again. I had held him tight as we went through the checkout but let go of him for a second or two to pick up my bags. That was all it took. As I chased after him towards the automatic front doors and into a very busy car park, I noticed a stranger was gently holding his shoulder.

“Is he yours?” she asked as she saw the sweat appear on my forehead.

“Yes,” I puffed as I once again held his wrists.

“He has autism and he is heading right for the car park lift. Thanks for your support.”

“I knew right away he had autism. You can tell.”

If I was given just a small amount of money each time someone told me something similar, I would be rich.

So what makes his difficulties and diagnosis so obvious?

Is it the fact he flaps and stims constantly? I really mean constantly — he cannot seem to sit or stand still. He shakes things, chews things, flaps things, flicks things, squeezes things and licks things all the time. It is difficult not to notice. His body movements are not hidden.

Is it the fact he cannot talk? That may seem like something you would think would not be noticeable, but the noises he does make are noises most people probably don’t hear every day. His noises are not hidden.

Is it the fact that he screams? He can scream longer than a fire alarm and more high-pitched that a whistle. He screams randomly and whenever he feels like it. There is nothing hidden about that.

He runs, he flaps, he has learning difficulties, and he behaves quite differently from other children his age. He is sometimes in a wheelchair for his own safety, and if I have not got the energy to run a marathon while doing my shopping, then I often use a disabled trolley for convenience.

He would rather spend hours at hand dryers in the bathroom than anywhere else in a store, unless they have a lift. He can be entertained for hours just watching lift doors open and close and open and close over and over again.

He is unmissable. He is loud. His tongue is more out of his mouth than it is in. He is handsome, cheeky and adorable. I don’t hide him and I don’t hide his autism. He doesn’t hide his diagnosis either.

People see him and people see his autism.

Sometimes they don’t react very well to that. Other times, like the beautiful stranger tonight, they see a child with obvious difficulties and look out for him.

They comment, they look and they react because my child has challenges that are not difficult to see. I understand that some people can “hide” their challenges, but that isn’t true for everyone.

Sometimes though, the fact it is not hidden brings me into contact with some truly amazing people. My son may not hide his autism, and thankfully there are many people in the world who chose not to hide their love and kindness, too. To the stranger in the supermarket, and the hundreds of other wonderful people who see me and smile, support and help — thank you!

young boy sitting on bus looking out window
Miriam’s son.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

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