April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to celebrate inclusion and acceptance of those with autism. One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. On the site Autism Speaks, they define “spectrum” as the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.
Here are 6 easy, fun ways we (adults and kids) can help these kids and families feel understood and welcome in our lives.
1. Start with a story
An engaging storybook can help kids feel empathy with all kinds of characters, including those with autism. Some great titles include My Brother Charlie, written by actress Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter Ryan Elizabeth Peete. In the book, we learn about 10-year-old Charlie, and his autism, through the eyes of his loving sister. A Friend Like Simon, by Kate Gaynot, follows the story of kids in a mainstream school befriending a new student with autism. Different Like Me, by Jennifer Elder, is about an 8-year-old boy with Asperger’s, who introduces young readers to his heroes in math, science and history.
2. Show your support
You and your kids can join tens of thousands of people around the world wearing bright royal blue on World Autism Awareness Day next year. It’s a simple way to promote awareness of the millions of individuals and families affected by autism. Then show your support to all your friends on social media by sharing your photos with the hashtag #LightItUpBlue.
3. Crafty ideas
Did you know that the symbol of autism is a puzzle piece? It’s easy to explain to your children that just like each puzzle piece is different, each person is different, including kids with autism. And that’s a good thing!
Celebrate this message with crafts using an old jigsaw puzzle you no longer use. Your kids can paint pieces solid colors, then glue them to card stock in creative designs. Add a positive message inside each card, and give to someone you know affected by autism, including caregivers. Older kids can glue 4 or 5 painted puzzle pieces together and add a bar pin on back (available at craft stores) to make a wearable piece of art that shows support. It can also be a great conversation starter!
4. Make a play date
Would a child who might be sensitive to loud noises really want to have a play date? It’s easy to assume the answer is no, but that may not be the case. Why not approach the parent of an autistic child you know and ask them?
Kids with autism can have challenges, but also great gifts as well, like knowing lots about dinosaurs, insects, math, etc. Try to find a common interest with your child beforehand and plan an activity or two around it. It can be as simple as giving both children new sticker books featuring those beloved dinosaurs or insects. Or, it might mean providing a building set both kids can use together.
5. Remember sisters and brothers
The siblings of a child with autism can sometimes miss out on everyday outings we take for granted. Since many children with autism dislike bright lights, loud noises, and strange surrounds, families with an autistic child may stick close to home. If you’re planning a trip to an amusement park, circus, or even a big mall, invite one of these siblings to join you. Your outing could be just the break they need!
6. Just connect
Simply showing that you’re open and interested is a great step toward making a family affected by autism feel more accepted. You might discuss if they are planning to participate in any local Autism Month events and ask how you can get involved. It could be something as simple as baking puzzle-shaped cookies for a fundraiser or participating in a walk. When we practice empathy and appreciation for differences, everyone benefits!
What are you doing to celebrate Autism Awareness Month? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!