Autism: We’re Aware. But Do We Really Get It?

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In the beginning of my teaching career, autism was unknown and widely misunderstood. Most people outside of the special education community had not heard of autism before. Those who had heard of it did not have a good understanding of what it was.

* Cue the autism awareness movement. *

Since then, autism advocates have been so successful in spreading awareness that most people today know what autism is. Many (most?) people even know someone with autism or are personally affected by it in some way. As a whole, it is safe to say that most people are now, at least, aware of autism.

People wear blue on April 2th, Autism Awareness Day. Some people paint their pumpkins teal or with rainbow puzzle pieces for Halloween. They post memes on their social media accounts to show support for autism awareness.

But are we really getting anywhere in terms of helping individuals with autism? People are aware of autism. Success! But do they really understand it?

True, we’ve come a long way in the past 20 years. When I first started working in an autism program, someone at a party walked up to me and said, “Your friend told me you work with artistic kids. What do they make?” I was confused. My students weren’t really known for making anything in particular. I wasn’t sure why my friend would say that to him. Turns out, he misunderstood her. He had never heard the term “autistic” before so he just assumed he misheard her. He assumed that she said “artistic” and that I was some sort of art teacher.

I don’t think that sort of misunderstanding would happen today. You'd have to dig a hole and live there to avoid hearing the word “autism” by now. People today are at least aware.

The next step is to educate the public on a deeper level. We’re on the next chapter now. Everyone knows what autism is. Now it’s time to demonstrate understanding.



Now we need to spread awareness on:
  • What it means to live with autism
  • How to treat people with autism
  • Accepting and including individuals with autism
  • How to support people with autism


And the best way to learn these things is to spend time with autistic individuals. Get the info straight from the source. Be with them, include them, love them, and learn.  Some things you just can’t learn from a text book or the internet.

The one thing all people with autism have in common is that they are all unique. They don’t all fit the characteristics on Web MD. They definitely don’t look like their movie portrayals. They don’t look the same, they don’t act the same, and they don’t think the same. Much like people without autism.


 If you work with or are part of the autism community, then you know that autism is a developmental disability. It isn’t something you wake up with one day from eating too much red dye 40. Autism is not a mental illness. It’s definitely not contagious. And it isn’t an excuse not to succeed.

Many people with autism live happy, very successful, and fulfilling lives. Autism isn’t necessarily a hindrance and shouldn’t be viewed that way. It’s just a different way of thinking, and therefore a different way of living.

So whether you “Light It Up Blue,” or do “Red Instead” …. Whether you use people first terminology or identity first language…  No matter which color you wear or paint your pumpkins… Let’s stay focused on our common goal. Let’s help people with autism by supporting them, accepting them, and including them in our lives.

Let’s teach our kids to invite the child with autism to play. Teach them not to be offended if the child declines the invitation. Teach them that some children learn differently and some children cope differently. Teach them that some children seek comfort through sensory input. Teach them that some children become overwhelmed by too much sensory input. Teach them that all children are different, autistic or not, and we should try our best to accept them as they are.

Teach them tolerance, compassion, and open- mindedness. We’ve achieved autism awareness. Now we need to spread autism acceptance.  


I offer many resources in my TPT shop, Exceptional Thinkers to support the needs of children with autism. You can check those out (a few are featured below) or connect with me on social media. I'd love to hear from you!





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