Celebrate Autism Awareness with a Little Kindness

Celebrate Autism Awareness with a Little Kindness

lightblueYou’re seeing plenty of blue this month since April is Autism Awareness Month. In our house, every day is autism awareness day. We’re not alone. Millions of tweens and teens have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.  Some were diagnosed as toddlers while others – like my son – weren’t diagnosed until they started school.  There is no “typical” autism patient – most people either think of the Dustin Hoffman character from “Rain Man” or a non-verbal child sitting in the corner, rocking back and forth.

It’s also no secret that the number of autism cases has risen in recent years and that means more tweens and teens than ever before face this disability. Think back to your own middle or high school experience – it was likely a bit rough as you tried to figure out where you fit in. Now add to that angst, the inability to pick up on social cues (an autistic characteristic) or the tendency to focus on a narrow topic of interest (most people with autism have a special interest that they can talk to you hours about….Michael’s is Pokemon). Many tweens and teens with autism also suffer from anxiety, too. Don’t forget to include the usual academic pressures and likely some bullying too – more than 60 percent of all children and teens with autism are bullied, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Now add all that together and you can easily figure out that the tween and teen years are especially rough for those with autism (and their parents, too.)

Many autistic teens also face an uncertain future, too. Some who are higher functioning may be able to go off to college, get a job and live on their own while others may live with their parents or a group home after they leave school. Some may be able to find work in a sheltered workplace or volunteer. Since every person and situation is different, most parents can only guess (and worry) about their own child’s future.

I know they’ll be a lot of stats tossed about this month about autism and the usual discussion about what causes it, but I’m hoping that most people will walk away with a better understanding about autism and remember it’s not just something to be aware of during the month of April, but actually throughout the whole year. Be understanding if you see someone who is struggling socially or a parent who is obviously at her wit’s end trying to tame a child of any age having a meltdown or tantrum. Teach your own children to accept all people, no matter what their abilities. And remember to do the same yourself. A little kindness goes a long way.

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MaryBeth Matzek

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