The first National Autism Awareness Month was declared by the Autism Society in April 1970.
The aim of this month is educate the public about autism. Autism is a complex mental condition and developmental disability, characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with other people. Autism can be be present from birth or form during early childhood (typically within the first three years). Autism is a lifelong developmental disability with no single known cause.
People with autism are classed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the terms autism and ASD are often used interchangeably. A wide spectrum disorder, people will autism have set of symptoms unique to themselves; no two people are the same.
Increasing Awareness About The Common Characteristics Of Autism
Whilst no two people with autism will have the same set of symptoms, there are common characteristics found in those with this complex disability. Briefly, these characteristics include:
Social Skills: people with autism have problems interacting with others; autistic children do not have adequate playing and talking skills. Mild symptoms on one end of the spectrum may be displayed through clumsy behavior, being out of sync with those around them and inappropriate or offensive comments being made. At the other end of the spectrum an autistic person may not be interested in others.
Empathy: empathy is the ability to recognize and understand the feelings of another person. People with autism find it harder to show empathy to others although they can be taught to acknowledge the others feelings.
Physical Contact in some cases: autistic people do not like physical contact such as hugs, tickling or physical play with others.
Sudden Changes To Their Environment: a sudden change in the surrounding environment may affect a person with autism. This could be a loud noise, a change in intensity of lighting or even a change in smell.
Speech: speech can be affected in people with autism. ‘Echolalia’ is a typical speech symptom in which the person repeats words and phrases that they hear. The speech tone of an autistic person may be monotonous. Where symptoms are more extreme the person may not speak.
Changes To Behavior and Routine: people with autism often display repetitive behavior in which they repeat the same action many times over. For example, a person with autism may repeatedly pace around a room in a certain direction. Any change to their behavior or routine can be unsettling for them. This could be a reordering of daily activities such as when a person brushes their teeth, takes a shower and has breakfast when they get up in the morning.
Other characteristics of autism include an unpredictable learning rate, obsessions and physical tics.
Autism Is Widespread, Awareness About This Condition Is Not
In the United States, autism affects 1 in every 110 children. National Autism Awareness Month aims to make the public more aware about this widespread disability and the issues which arise in the autism community. As about 1 in 150 people in America have autism, the chances are that you know someone with this disability. A better informed public will be more empathetic and supportive towards people with autism.
This month is backed by the Autism Society of America which undertake a number of activities to raise awareness about autism. The Autism Society has local chapters throughout the United States which hold special events throughout April.
The ‘Puzzle Ribbon’ is the symbol for Autism Awareness and is promoted by the Autism Society as means of supporting awareness for autism. The Puzzle Ribbon may take the form of a pin attached to clothing, a fridge magnet or a sticker and are available to purchase from the Autism Society website.
The Autism Society of America also run a year long campaign through their 1 Power 4 Autism initiative, in which people are encouraged to hold events to raise awareness and support for those affected by autism.