April is a week away and for autistics, this month may bring up many different feelings. Since 1970, during the month of April, individuals and organizations across the globe celebrate Autism Awareness Month with events to educate local communities and raise public awareness about autism. While decorating things with puzzle pieces and "lighting it up blue" is often well-intentioned, many autistics dread April and it's focus of spreading awareness of autism as a "disease." To read more about 10 things Autistic People Wish You Knew About April and Autism Awareness Month, click here
If you're wondering what other things you could do to support and advocate for your autistic loved ones, Autism Level Up has a great number of guides and resources on their website, autismlevelup.com. Many of us are still learning about the realities of autism and neurodiversity, and with additional awareness we can all move forward towards empowerment and advocacy!
Another thing you can do, not just in April but every day, is to take steps towards celebrating your autistic loved one's individual strengths in a unique and individualized Autism Celebration! Remember when Harry learns for the first time that he is a wizard, and the whole wide world of wizardry opens up to him? For many, that is what it feels like when they learn that they are autistic! Many autistics have reflected that learning about autism has helped them make sense of things that they have been through, and gave them a whole community of others with shared experiences. This is one reason why talking about autism with a child can be so powerful, especially when it is framed as an exciting discovery.
So what might an Autism Celebration look like? Well, first a foremost, it should be focused around what your autistic loved one truly enjoys! Here are a couple of things to consider when planning an Autism Celebration for a loved one:
1) What environment is the most relaxing and enjoyable for your autistic loved one?
2) What are your loved one's special interests that you could include as part of the celebration?
3) How can you honor your autistic loved one's unique sensory profile during this celebration (limited people, awareness of noise stimulation, preferred foods only, plenty access to fidgets, breaks, and calming activities, etc.)
4) How much time are you going to give your loved one to prepare and process that there is going to be a celebration? Please incorporate your loved one's preferences above all else!
5) Who is going to be at the celebration? Please screen these people to ensure that they use positive and affirming language during the celebration and are positive people in your loved one's life.
Lastly, how do you talk about autism with your loved one for the first time? We have written a children's book, "Congratulations, You're Autistic!" for just this occasion. It is available on Amazon in a paperback and kindle version. While we understand that many parents are fearful about labels, giving your child information about their unique strengths and differences will give them a better understanding of themselves, will help them self-advocate for what they need, and will connect them with others who are like them.
When you are talking about autism, using positive and affirming language is very important! Autism is complex and every autistic person is unique, with their own strengths and challenges. It is important that the process of explaining an autism to a loved one is individualized and meaningful to them. Consider how your loved one processes information the best. Is it through a movie, like this one? Or is it through reading a book? Your loved one may have questions, and that is a great place to start. Sharing about your own uniqueness may also help support the discussion. The use of positive concrete examples of contrasts among familiar people can make it easier to talk about differences in a straight-forward and positive way. A positive attitude about differences can be established if you start as early as possible, and before Autism is mentioned by others, so consider celebrating your autistic loved one soon!