What is Autism Awareness Month?
In 1970, the Autism Society launched an ongoing nationwide effort to promote autism awareness and assure that all affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible. In 1972, the Autism Society launched the first annual National Autistic Children’s week, which evolved into Autism Acceptance Month (AAM). This April, Carolina Therapy Connection continues our efforts to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change alongside so many others across the nation.
How can I participate in doing my part?
The prevalence of Autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 in 2020. Recognizing this continued increase, the goal is to further increase awareness and global understanding about autism using support, kindness and compassion. Here are just a few ways you can participate this April:
- Be informed – This doesn’t just mean looking up what the definition is on google or the signs/symptoms, but also learning how to interact with a person with Autism, and how to help them feel included, confident, safe and happy. Today it is becoming much more common to encounter someone with Autism and with doing the research, there would be a lot less struggle to even just say “hello.” You can view our resources page to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder and ways to become more educated about the diagnosis. It is so important for the public to gain information directly from those with Autism. Show empathy, learn their perspective and respect their voice!
- Show your support – Use hashtags #CelebrateDifferences, #KindnessCounts, #Lightitupblue, and #WorldAutismMonth on social media. On April 2nd, 2021, wear blue to show your support. Autism Awareness month is all about making a month of kindness, towards others and yourself. We all get wrapped into the busy lives we live and forget to stop and say something kind to a coworker, friend, family member, or even a stranger. This is especially the month to be kind to those who are just a little bit different, but so special.
- Get involved – A great way to get involved is joining in some type of program with the special needs population. These programs are all over Eastern NC and can also be found on our local resources page. Some of these programs include Special Needs sports teams, day programs for children or adults with Autism, runs or walks that may fund Autism research, and so many more. Get out and volunteer!
Autism Awareness From an Autistic Perspective
The Carolina Therapy Connection staff recently had the opportunity to hear an amazing presentation from Fiona Holler, a high school junior at John Paul II Catholic High School in Greenville, NC. Fiona explained in great detail what it has personally been like for her growing up with Autism. We look forward to looking with her more in the near future with setting up Autism support groups for kiddos and their families! Fiona is an enormous asset to the Autism community within and around Pitt County.
Here are a few points Fiona made during her presentation:
- Neurodivergent vs Neurotypical: Neurodivergent people are those who have a differing mental or neurological function from what is considered typical (neurotypical people).
- Sensory isn’t just a term for neurodivergent people. We all have sensory needs and we all take in sensory information through our bodies differently.
- What is sensory pleasing to one autistic person may be completely different from another autistic person. Examples can include different lighting, specific noises, physical sensations, tastes and smells. Another really important aspect of sensory needs is that they can change. Sensory preferences are not always permanent and change more than people think! A lot of people with Autism often get frustrated when trying to communicate our sensory needs, which can often lead to things like stimming, or burnout.
- Stimming refers to how neurodivergent individuals release and express their emotions. The misconception of stimming is that it is always a sign of stress or aggression. The truth is that stimming is used to describe a certain mechanism used to release a range of emotions, whether it be excited, sad, angry, happy, anxious, etc.
- Masking refers to when people with Autism push down our stims and coping mechanisms in order to “blend in” with the neurotypical world. Masking doesn’t just refer to pushing down sensory pleasures, it can mean completely changing or disguising yourself as what society believes is “normal.”
- Burnout refers to extreme tiredness and fatigue caused by masking, extreme sensory sensations, and/or the presence of extreme emotions (with and without masking).
- Often times, a symptom of Autism is “special interests.” These are sometimes associated as a negative symptom. The term is called “special interest” because we as autistics tend to excessively fixate on a specific topic, usually much more than neurotypical people – special interests are good! Even though sometimes we need direct social cues, this doesn’t mean that sharing a special interest is wrong- it’s a matter of when it is and isn’t appropriate to share. Like stimming, these special interests often get frowned upon for how autistic people present them and or which age group the topic is meant for. This is very harmful to people with autism and can give us the wrong idea. Fiona explained that she grew up thinking she wasn’t allowed to express a special interest or stim without being labeled as incompetent.
- A final thought: “Being autistic is very hard at times because whether we know or don’t know our diagnosis, it is easy to feel as if we don’t belong in this world of neurotypical people. We are trained to mask and hide our autism a lot of the times rather than to accept and love ourselves for who we are. I find myself knowing how to mask better than how to help myself. This is a very dangerous thing to teach our young autistic children. A lot of things about how autistic people regulate and how/what they think goes unsaid, which is why it is so important that we encourage the open conversation and genuine acceptance of autism. It’s okay to have questions about our diagnosis, just ask us kindly and we will answer the best we can. We’re people too.”