April Is National Autism Awareness Month

It's believed that about 1.5 million Americans are affected by autism. National Autism Awareness Month is intended to promote understanding of the disorder and advocate for those who it affects. Learn more about autism and how you can educate others about the disorder.

By Douglas Fehlen

A Life-Altering Diagnosis

Autism often includes significant impairments. Many people have difficulties communicating and socializing with others. Individuals affected by the disorder may also engage in repetitive actions and ritualistic behaviors that can negatively impact their everyday lives. The type and severity of autistic characteristics greatly varies between individuals, so the term 'autism' actually refers to a wide spectrum of behaviors.

In children affected by autism, difficulties with learning are almost always present. For this reason, young people often struggle in the classroom and typically require special education services. A person never 'outgrows' or is 'cured of' autism, and adults affected by the disorder may face difficulties working, shopping and doing other activities many of us take for granted. While life with autism can present challenges, a wide variety of cognitive-behavioral therapies can help to improve functioning.

Changing Attitudes

In addition to advancements in treatments for autism, increased understanding about the disorder is also helping to make life better for individuals. National Autism Awareness Month is one longstanding initiative designed to help create a culture of understanding about the disorder. People with autism were once thought by many to be uneducable and unable to join the adult world in any significant way. With the help of awareness campaigns, this dated view is increasingly left behind.

Today it's widely understood that students with autism can perform well in school, and that adults with the disorder can enjoy meaningful, productive lives in all aspects of society. In fact, people who are affected by autism often demonstrate extraordinary gifts in various skill areas. For example, many people who exhibit autism spectrum behaviors have impressive memorization skills or other remarkable abilities.

Get Involved

Progress has definitely been made in creating a world that is more understanding of people who are affected by autism, but there remains more work to do. National Autism Awareness Month represents an opportunity for you to join the effort. Here are some ideas:

Participate in an Autism Society of America event.The Autism Society of America (ASA) is a pioneering organization that has advocated for those affected by autism and their families for more than four decades. The organization, which started National Autism Awareness Month, has local chapters that put on events you can get involved in.

Vote 4 Autism. An advocacy initiative of the ASA, this online initiative invites concerned citizens to stay abreast of legislative developments in federal and state governments. At the page you can click on links that will allow you to make your voice heard by legislators.

Hold your own event. Want to put together your own fundraising or awareness campaign? Check out 1Power4Autism, a one-stop spot where you can find resources for deciding on an activity, recruiting help and getting your event off the ground.

Temple Grandin is an award-winning animal scientist who also happens to have been diagnosed with autism. Learn how this visionary has used her insight from the disorder to become one of 'Time' magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

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