April 11, 2019
April is World Autism Awareness Month, an initiative that has grown as understanding around autism diagnoses – as well as the rate of diagnosis – has also increased.
Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States and more than 70 million people worldwide. While parents of autistic children and organizations like Autism Speaks have been prominent voices in the conversation around autism, accommodations, and treatment in the past few decades, a growing number of autistic youth and adults have been gaining a larger role in advocacy, policy, and education.
With that in mind, here are 10 things everyone should know about autism awareness and acceptance in April and beyond.
- What’s in a name? There’s no one right answer. There’s an admirable awareness around person-first language (e.g. “person with a disability” instead of “disabled person”) but many people who have autism diagnoses have said they prefer the term “autistic” and not “person with autism.”
- Many autistic advocates would like to go beyond “awareness.” There is a push in the autism community to challenge people who create policy and educational standards to be more flexible and accommodating of neurodiverse people instead of expecting them to change themselves to fit in with mainstream society.
- If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism… This is a popular saying among autistic people that serves as a reminder that autism is, indeed, a very full spectrum. Some people with autism may live independently and have jobs, while others may be more severely affected and need constant support. While people with autism share some characteristics, there’s no defining set of features that all autistic people share.
- It’s a lifelong condition. Therapy, diet, and medication can sometimes help autistic people overcome challenges, but no one ever outgrows autism. There is no treatment that can make go away. Autism is a lifelong condition that is an integral part of each individual who has it. That doesn’t mean people with autism can’t achieve great things – famous people with autism include actors Daryl Hannah and Sir Anthony Hopkins, singer Susan Boyle, and author John Elder Robison. While he was never officially diagnosed, many people think physicist Albert Einstein also had autism.
- Nonverbal doesn’t mean an inability to understand or communicate. Many people on the autism spectrum have verbal delays or may never communicate with words. That does not mean they are incapable of understanding others or forming the same complex thoughts that fully verbal people do, however. Assistive technology has helped bridge the communication gap and allowed nonverbal autistic people to convey their thoughts and needs.
- Autism is NOT a lack of empathy. In fact, autistic individuals may experience excessive empathy – however, they do not express it in the same ways as neurotypical people. In some cases, people with autism may have trouble identifying the emotion they’re feeling.
- People with autism often have other conditions too. The autism community experiences some medical and mental health conditions at a higher rate than the general population, including ADHD, chronic sleep problems, depression, epilepsy, gastrointestinal disorders, and schizophrenia.
- Girls with autism are diagnosed at much lower rates than boys. In 2018 the CDC determined that 1 in 59 children in the U.S. have autism – but those numbers break down to 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls.
- People with autism often have different sensory systems and experiences. The way our sensory systems develop determines how we experience our bodies in space and relative to other bodies and objects. It is very common for autistic people to have sensory sensitivities like extreme sensitivity to light and noise; have sensory deficits – meaning they need more sensory input through deep pressure; or a combination of both.
- There are a lot of resources to learn more about autism! From lobbying groups to books, there are more resources than ever offering education and insight about autism. Look for websites, books, and hashtags authored and shared by autistic people to get the most reliable information.