As some of you may know, April is Autism Awareness Month, a time when organizations try to put out more information about autism, the needs of autistic people, and how we as a society can be more accepting, welcoming, and helpful to people with autism and their families. Today is also World Autism Awareness Day, the day when many organizations hold special events, drives, and programs to raise awareness for and acceptance of people with autism. So in honor of that, I’ll be sharing a little information about autism, including what it is, what we can do to help people with autism, interesting stories, and the nonexistent link between vaccines and autism.
First off, what is autism? Well, it’s actually a spectrum of developmental disorders that affect a person’s behavior, social, and communication skills. It is not a disease, it is not a handicap, and it is not a death sentence. People with autism are perfectly capable of living long, fulfilling lives with their own families and friends. Yes, some people with autism need more help than others, but everyone has different needs. To learn more about autism, click here to go to the Autism Science Foundation (which has a lot of interesting information and actual research papers), here for information from the Autism Center of Excellence, and here for information from the most well-known autism non-profit, Autism Speaks. The final web site is probably the most user-friendly.
Autism is a life-long condition whose symptoms can be ameliorated with occupational, behavioral, and speech therapies. Many people with autism struggle to interact and interpret the world the way most people do, so they need additional help figuring out how to do that. Some also have physical health problems like seizures or mental health problems like depression. There are many different ways to help people with autism, including therapy, medication (which does not treat autism directly; that is impossible), and lifestyle changes. Click here to learn how the CDC advocates helping people with autism, here to see what the Interactive Autism Network has to say, or here from information from the Autism Society.
Arguably the best way to make sure someone with autism succeeds in life is to diagnose and help them early. The previous three links told you about early intervention diagnoses and therapies. But what should parents do to help their children? What do parents with autistic children wish other people knew? If you click here, you can go to a PBS article about how to help children with autism. Clicking here will take you to the article “How to Handle the 4 Most Challenging Autism Behaviors,” including learning to be “translators” for your child. Here is an article from The National Autistic Society about lessons that cater to kids with autism. Here is an article from Today’s Parent entitled “10 Tips for Helping Children with Autism” (It’s a bit fluffy, but you might benefit from it.). And here is a short article, “10 Things Autism Parents Wish You Knew” from a mother of children with autism.
However, one of the components missing from the conversation about autism is what people with autism think and feel. Too often, we dismiss autistic people, reasoning that they can’t understand the world around them or need someone to speak for them. Well, that’s not always true. Many autistic people are fully capable of communicating their worldview and opinions, and they will know what uncommunicative autistic people feel better than the most compassionate ally. So if you’d like to hear from an actual autistic person, you can click here, here, here, here (which has the best compilation), or here to watch the “I Have Autism” episode of True Life (only available with a TV provider). You can also click here to go to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), which is a great resource for people with autism by people with autism.
If you would like to help raise awareness of autism and acceptance for people with autism, click here for a list of autism foundations, organizations, and treatment centers from Autism Key. Most of these organizations will have a donate button so you can contribute to their work. If you’d rather have a less clinical, more personal list, you can click here for one woman’s personal recommendations. Here takes you to recommendations from Autism Speaks as well as a donate button to Autism Speaks. However, before you give to Autism Speaks, I recommend clicking here or here to find out why some people don’t support the organization. Despite its high profile nature and large budget, it doesn’t always allow autistic people to speak for themselves and can sometimes treat them like a disease meant to be cured or excised. This doesn’t mean Autism Speaks isn’t a decent organization or that the public can’t compel it to do better, but it does mean you might not want to use them as your one stop shop for autism awareness. Make your own decision.
Before I go, there is one more topic I want to cover: do vaccines cause autism? NO. No, vaccines do not cause autism. In over a decade of research, there has been no link between vaccines and autism, and the original “study” put forth in the 90s was a terrible fabrication. Don’t believe me? Well, you can click here to go to the CDC’s section entitled “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism,” which includes actual studies. Or you can click here to go to a really in-depth, user-friendly article from Medical Daily about the history of autism and vaccines and how this whole mess started. So vaccinate your kids, love them unconditionally, and have a nice day.
If you’d like to share an organization, article, or information about autism, feel free to do so in the comments!
* Featured image taken from http://theodysseyonline.com/fsu/how-working-with-children-with-autism-this-summer-changed-me/155873