The month of April usually marks the start of National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM). In this period, organisations and companies aim to spread awareness and promote acceptance of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) through starting campaigns, sharing resources and creating events.
Parents, caregivers and professionals who work closely with individuals with autism may be able understand the significance of public awareness. But some may ask “Why is there a need for us to know about autism?”
Have you heard of the saying, “Knowledge is power”? Here, I hope to share with you the importance and significance of autism awareness.
Perspective of parents and caregivers: Clears up misunderstandings and stereotypes
All too often, I’ll come across a sharing on social media by parents who have a child with autism experiencing misunderstandings from a member of the public. In this sharing, I recalled that the child had a sensory meltdown in public and a lady made comments such as “What an awful child? Who are his parents?”. These judgmental attitudes and comments stemming from ignorance can deeply upset individuals with autism and their family members.
Greater awareness will bring about better understanding. If the lady had read or seen something on autism, perhaps she would not have made those remarks. She would have understood that the reason the child was behaving in such a manner may not be due to poor discipline or teaching, but due to his senses being overwhelmed. Perhaps she would have acted differently and offered help to the family instead.
Public awareness clears up stereotypes and misunderstandings, and serves as a form of emotional support for parents and caregivers.
Perspective of individuals with autism: Increase early childhood screening and timely intervention
Early intervention is extremely crucial for individuals with autism. Research has shown that early intervention can improve children’s holistic development, decrease challenging behaviours, assist them in gaining essential social and communication skills, thus leading to positive outcomes later in life.
When public awareness is strong, individuals will be more well-informed on symptoms, earliest age of diagnosis, interventions or therapies that will be useful, etc. Note: this does not only apply to only autism of course, but also to other conditions (such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Global Developmental Delay, etc.). With access to reliable information, this increases the likelihood of early childhood screening, diagnosis and timely support and intervention. As such, individuals with autism will be able to receive support as early as possible, improving their transition to adulthood and when they step into society.
Perspective of public: Greater advocacy and acceptance
Members of the public can do their part to share and advocate. For example, if an employee is able to influence his colleagues and eventually advise his boss on hiring individuals with autism, he would have increased their chances of employment.
With greater advocacy amongst the public, we hope that it will lead to acceptance. After all, we are all different in our own ways.
Some might argue that a single individual may not be able to do much alone. That’s true too, but there is strength in numbers. For example, if an organisation is able to ensure public access to reliable information regarding autism and set an example by hiring or providing services for them, who knows what impact or influence it might have on other organisations?
With greater public awareness on autism, it can help not just individuals with autism, but also make lives easier for families and caregivers. In addition, we also enrich our society by accepting the wonderful differences that we all have. Let’s all do our part to spread greater awareness for these amazing individuals, and hopefully influencing others to make such a positive change too.
Written by Winnie.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation. (2020). Early intervention makes a huge difference for autistic children. Retrieved from https://myasdf.org/media-center/articles/early-intervention-makes-a-huge-difference-for-autistic-children/
Povey. C. (2014). What is autism and why is public understanding important? Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/what-is-autism-and-why-is-public-understanding-important-9927778.html