Autism Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Day
Every year as April approaches I start to plan for Autism Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Day. As the president of Brain Parade, a company that builds language development apps for autism, this is obviously an important time of the year. It’s a time when autism takes center stage around the world and autism awareness peaks.
There are awareness events, fundraisers, promotions, interviews, and media activity around the globe with the intention of raising awareness, raising funds, and educating people about autism. There are large, global activities such as the annual Autism Speaks “Light it up Blue” event where individuals, businesses, and governments around the world light up buildings, monuments and houses in blue to show their support for individuals with autism. The Autism Society of America extensively promotes Autism Awareness Month in April.
There are also hundreds of local events in cities and towns around the world like the one here in Stamford, Connecticut spearheaded by the Stamford Education for Autism organization. Each year they hold an annual event at the Stamford government center to celebrate the many accomplishments and successes of local individuals on the autism spectrum.
All of these events are great in their own way because they bring awareness about autism to the forefront of discussion. Local and national news stations cover these events, school children talk about autism at school and around the dinner table when they get home. Businesses get involved through activity or donations. The end result is that the public is more educated, funds for research and for support are raised, and, most importantly, individuals with autism are recognized as important members of our communities who can make remarkable contributors to our society.
When I started Brain Parade in 2010 my goal was to build educational apps and learning games for kids that would improve the quality and effectiveness of instruction for children with autism. I approached this from a technology perspective, asking myself how I could use my technology expertise to create innovative educational games and autism apps to help the special needs teacher connect with and instruct children with learning disabilities.
I had no background in applied behavior analysis, discrete trial training, or other teaching strategies used by special education professionals. Right away I sought out experts to help me with the domain expertise on the teaching strategies used by special education professionals teaching children with autism. Stephanie O’Brien M.S., BCaBA was involved since day one and has been an incredible source of knowledge and guidance and has helped make the See.Touch.Learn. products truly top-notch.
While Stephanie and others shared their expertise on pedagogies and teaching strategies, I still had limited first hand experience working with children with autism. That all changed at an autism awareness expo I attended when I had the good fortune of meeting Robin Portanova from Stamford Education for Autism (SE4A). Robin formed SE4A in 2007 with the mission to: “To help provide educational; opportunities and supportive services to the Autism Spectrum Disorder population and their families, within the greater Stamford Community.” Robin has been a tireless advocate on behalf Stamford’s autism population – championing their rights, raising the community’s awareness, and providing support and assistance to families. Robin immediately invited me into her group and introduced me to the wonderful, dedicated, and passionate members of SE4A. Through Robin and her extended SE4A family I learned a lot. I learned about the challenges that parents and families with a child on the autism spectrum face and I saw ferocity with which they support their children and each other. Most importantly I saw the unconditional love they had for their children and the pure joy they got from seeing them make progress and succeed.
What have I learned?
Since I started Brain Parade, I have had many opportunities to work with children with autism. It has been eye-opening. It has been wonderful. And it has been inspiring. As World Autism Awareness Day was approaching I took some time to reflect on that experience over the past four years. I’m no expert – but here are a few things that my friends on the autism spectrum have taught me.
Understanding – You think you know the story? You don’t. The child who is “throwing a tantrum” at the grocery checkout counter isn’t a “brat who can’t get the candy he wants.” In fact he may just be a lovable little boy who is unable to communicate that he’s tired or afraid or needs to use the restroom. You have no idea what’s really going on, so don’t judge, try to be understanding.
Empathy – What you see and hear isn’t necessarily what everyone else sees and hears. We tend to take our ability to communicate for granted. This video very powerfully illustrates the challenges that non-verbal individuals have.
Joy – Too often we make things more complicated than they need to be. How many times has a child with autism done or said something that made you realize just how simple things really are? Stop over-complicating things. You’ll enjoy life more! Look at the world through innocent eyes. It’s much nicer!
During World Autism Awareness Month this year, try to be more understanding, show more empathy, and see joy in the simple things. Better yet, take that attitude with you every day of the year. Help make the world a better place.
Brain Parade is celebrating World Autism Awareness Month with special deals on our autism apps:
*** See.Touch.Learn. Site Edition for schools and districts – Specials available – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. ***