How Are You Sporting Understanding, Acceptance & AWESOMENESS?
By Karen Kaplan, MS
Monday, March 27th through Sunday, April 2nd is autism acceptance, awareness, and for me, Awesomeness week. Most people acknowledge April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day. The day is about recognizing and spreading awareness for the rights of people on the autism spectrum. Those celebrating this week know that awareness and acceptance have come a long way in 60 years, but we still have a journey ahead.
This special day is said to celebrate the resilience of those living on the spectrum and their families. People are beginning to recognize that those on the spectrum have strengths and challenges and often face hard times in school, their community, and being included in the world of work.
We are beginning to understand that "If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism" and that those living on the spectrum cannot be just lumped together. Teachers, therapists, family members, and neighbors need to take the time to get to know someone on the spectrum and see their awesomeness as well as their challenges and learning differences. Children, adults, and their families just want to be understood, supported, and accepted in their schools, in their communities, and in the workplace. They want others to see their capabilities, expand their possibilities and celebrate their successes just like everyone else.
For years media seemed to only focus on the glass half-empty. The week of Autism Awareness was screaming about what we are NOT doing, what is lacking, what is ignored, what is not working, and rarely on the strengths, successes, gifts, and talents of those on the spectrum. So, ten years ago, I started an Autism Awesomeness event in the San Francisco North Bay area. I was determined to have families see hope. So, the way I supported understanding, acceptance, and the awesomeness of those I knew on the spectrum was to have them show their gifts and talents. Artists, musicians, inventors, Zen practitioners, a DJ, singers, dancers, and writers on the spectrum were showcased. They demonstrated their strengths and interests on stage in front of teachers, therapists, parents, grandparents, schools, and organizations.
I remember as the event was closing one day, a teacher came up to me, saying, "Thank you for showing me, once again, why I am passionate about my field." I had a grandparent say, "Thank you for giving us hope." I smiled and knew that the event had worked.
So, what are you doing to support the understanding, acceptance, and awesomeness of those you know on the spectrum?
Can you bring awareness to your Facebook page or Instagram site? Could you post some websites that help understand the autism spectrum?
Could you volunteer in some autism organization or make some type of donation that expands acceptance?
Do you own a business that could explore recruiting, hiring, and supporting someone on the spectrum? Perhaps you might offer some volunteer opportunities.
Are you part of a business that could reach out and find out if any of your employees have a child or grandchild on the spectrum and offer some type of support? Could you bring in a consultant to expand the awareness of autism to every employee by providing a workshop?
As a teacher, can you take the time to tell each student what you are proud of them for? How can you celebrate their accomplishments? Can you send a note home to their parents, letting them know something encouraging about their individual? What successes are they having in school? What are they overcoming?
As a teacher, can you make time to help their peers understand them? Maybe you can offer a workshop to other teachers in the school. Maybe you can offer to go into other classrooms to build acceptance and understanding and reduce bullying.
If you enjoy the outdoors, perhaps join a local fundraiser or walk, such as the Autism Speaks Walk.
As a therapist, please send a note home or take a few minutes by email, phone, or face-to-face to highlight the progress being made. Parents want to hear what is working. Parents want to see hope.
Parents, you might purchase some books on autism for your school's library. There are many books that typical children can read to learn about their classmates or friends with autism. Just check out Amazon Books. Autism Is...? (Autism Is...? Books): Wideman-van der Laan, Ymkje, Feldman, Rob: 9781475102710: Amazon.com: Books Autism and Me - Autism Book for Kids Ages 8-12: An Empowering Guide with 35 Exercises, Quizzes, and Activities!: Cook BCBA MEd, Katie: 9781648765971: Amazon.com: Books My Friend with Autism: Enhanced Edition: Bishop, Beverly, Bishop, Craig: 9781949177503: Amazon.com: Books A Friend Like Simon: A Friend Like Simon (Special Stories Series): Gaynot, Kate: 9780956175120: Amazon.com: Books
If you are an administrator or director of a program, school, or center, how about sending an article to the local newspaper? Tell them how your school or center is embracing autism and helping build capacities. Ask them to honor autism awesomeness. Invite a journalist to your site. Invite TV out to your site.
If you are the director of a supported employment agency, honor, publicly or through social media, those businesses that hire your individuals. Show gratitude to them and awareness of the community.
Maybe you go on an autism site and purchase a hat or t-shirt with their logo. Wear it that week. Autism Awareness T-Shirts: Support Autism Awareness Today! (tees2urdoor.com) Autism Hat - Etsy and bring awareness.
Please, take some time and do something that expands awareness, encourages understanding, celebrates successes, and, most of all, gives hope. Honor the challenges. Respect the hard times that families and individuals face and offer support and encouragement.
Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor's and master's degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.