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What Did You Learn During Autism Awareness Month?

Updated: Apr 7

By Karen Kaplan

What did you learn during Autism Awareness Month?

I hope it was more than the reported increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism. I hope it was more than hearing about the many non-profit organizations raising money to support those on the autism spectrum.

I hope you learned more than what we are NOT doing. I hope you learned that it is about the significant difference in support for each individual, as each possesses different strengths, interests, challenges, hopes, dreams, and capabilities. I also hope you learned that many individuals with profound challenges will always need a supported life.

Did you also learn:

  • Some people on the spectrum have limited foods they will try or eat? I saw this interesting visual showing five blueberries with their descriptions (juicy, squishy, sweet, sour) and then five square wheat pieces, with this sentence, “The same every time.” I smiled. Many individuals like sameness, routine, and consistency, even in foods. Some avoid new and novel for concern over their inconsistency in taste, texture, smell, etc.

  • There are young children with autism who have been asked to leave preschool/daycare programs in their communities? I knew there has been a lack of teacher training and a shortage of teachers and support staff, but I hadn’t thought about the local preschool/daycare centers that families need so badly being affected.

  • Most girls on the spectrum are often first identified as having anxiety and depression rather than exhibiting signs of autism?

  • There are more post-secondary programs for those on the spectrum than ever, helping individuals expand their passions, receive degrees, and nurture independence?

  • There are opportunities to help build a greater understanding and inclusion in classrooms? For example, I was asked to put together a list of books, Kindergarten through fifth grade, for typical classmates to read or be read to so that they could understand a classmate or student on their school grounds with autism. How great for a parent to want to help teachers understand their students and classmates to accept differences.

  • Many people with autism DO want to have friends — they just may need help sometimes understanding the different kinds of friendships to all engage in.

  • Some individuals with autism are not social? Hmmm. Not true. Many individuals want to be social, but could benefit from learning how to play, cooperate, and collaborate. While some of us pick up on many social rules just by observing, others may need to practice them and learn why they are essential.

  • There are individuals on the spectrum who are authors, musicians, inventors, actors, programmers, singers, zen practitioners, researchers, scientists, etc.?

  • Some people are very sensitive to sounds, smells, tastes, texture, touch, and brightness, but there are ways to still engage in school, work, and their communities?

  • Many people want to communicate but need help understanding the rules of conversation? They just want to know how to start, join, or finish. How do I know someone is interested in what I have to say? How can I learn if I am saying too much?

  • Everyone has a right to live in a community that meets their needs, and we should support legislation encouraging freedom of choice to include the needed funding?

  • Families of those on the spectrum might feel very isolated? If you have an individual with autism in your neighborhood, how great would it be to be kind and considerate to greet, explore, understand their individual, and share with them your acceptance

  • Just because an individual may not verbalize, they may understand all or a part of what you are saying and that your words affect feelings.

  • There are many different ways of communicating? One person might use sign language. One might use a communication device. Someone might use pictures. One might write or type. One may use some consistent gestures, and the pitch/tone of their noises could indicate their fear, happiness, or anxiety.

  • Some people might be aggressive (hit, kick, bite, throw things)? If your communication was not understood and you wanted to say NO, you might also physically express your fear and frustration too.

  • More and more companies are reaching out to learn how to recruit, hire and support those on the spectrum?

  • All brains are not the same, and everyone learns differently? One size does not fit all. I hope teachers learned that interests can help motivate and expand knowledge and how important it is to modify and accommodate.

I hope that during Autism Awareness Month you had the chance to watch a film, video, or podcast talking about autism. In addition, I hope you may have checked out a book on autism. Here are some ideas:

If you want to know more, check out Autism Tool Kits: About Autism-Toolkits and Guides | IACC (

If, during Autism Awareness Month, you did not have time to learn something new, there is always time to become more knowledgeable and aware. Remember that when the numbers tell you 1 in 36 children may be identified on the spectrum, your neighbor, your brother or sister, cousin or friend may have a child with autism, and the more you know, the better you can understand and support.

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

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 schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges.

Karen founded a non-profit, Offerings, which helps cultures globally to 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 annual Autism Awesomeness event. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. Karen has authored three books: Reach Me Teach Me: A Public School Program for the Autistic Child; A Handbook for Teachers and Administrators, On the Yellow Brick Road: My Search for Home and Hope for the Child with Autism, and Typewriting to Heaven… and Back: Conversations with My Dad on Death, Afterlife and Living (which is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love).

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