Article by Sandy Klindworth, MS, CCC-SLP
We have all seen billboards, pamphlets, websites, and public service announcements dedicated to Autism Awareness. You can go online and purchase Autism Awareness jewelry, decals, apparel, fabric, and totes, and last Friday Fenway Park glowed blue for Autism Awareness night at the Red Sox game. What is up with all the Autism Awareness?
In very few words, the purpose of Autism Awareness campaigns are to educate and to inspire action. These events and materials serve to inform the public about what Autism is and isn’t, to put a personal face to Autism, to support individuals and families affected by Autism, and to encourage the public’s engagement and involvement in finding solutions.
In a very practical, personal sense, Autism Awareness is every bit as important and valuable in the very small scale as it is in the big world of Fenway Park. What could you do to help the people in your son or daughter’s immediate world become more educated, and maybe even inspired-to-action about Autism? Would more knowledge about autism in general, and your unique child in particular, help others become better playmates and communication partners to him or her?
One suggestion is to develop a 15 minute presentation about your child for his or her peers. Maybe it will take the form of a fancy power point, but might just be you showing a photo album or just talking. I would expect your child’s teacher to welcome the opportunity to have you come to the class and share your presentation. Maybe you could also present to the Cub Scout den, the Sunday School class, and the after school play group.
Here are some specific suggestions:
- If you think that this would be awkward or uncomfortable for you or your child, you might arrange for him to be out of the room during the presentation. On the other hand, your child might want to participate, or even lead the presentation.
- The information you share must be age-appropriate. A kindergarten child can understand that “John is 5 years old, just like you. He has autism and that means that his brain works different than yours.”
- You might include a statement about cause. Young children might need to hear that it is nobody’s fault and that you can’t catch it, like a cold. “Some children are born with autism, and nobody is sure about why that is.”
- While you will want to give some general autism facts, most of the information that you share should be about your unique child. “John doesn’t like loud noises, and might get scared easier than you do if it is noisy.”
- Offer practical advice whenever possible. “John is smart, but he can’t talk as good as you. When you talk to him, make sure his communication book is open, and watch when he points to the words.”
Awareness, education, advocacy – Call it what you will, it is valuable close to home!