Why Should You Learn About Autism?

 Why Should You Learn About Autism?

By Kami-Leigh Agard

Most parents, caregivers, advocates and professionals who interact closely with individuals on the autism spectrum understand the need for public awareness and acceptance of autism. However, some in the general public may ask, “Why is there a need for me to know about autism?” With the latest research in 2023 from the CDC revealing that one in 36 children is now diagnosed with autism—an increase from one in 44 children just two years ago—chances are you will or already have encountered an individual with autism. And with that chance encounter, don’t underestimate how much joy you can bring to a caregiver or autistic individual, or even save a life.

There’s a colloquial saying in my family: “Come see me and come live with me are two different things.” Let’s ponder on this. When you casually visit (see someone), the understanding or intimacy shared is at a completely different level than when you actually live with someone. For example, think of that great friend you made in college freshman year, who you later got an apartment with, and were shocked upon the realization that the individual was actually Darth Vader reincarnated.

Jokes aside, CDC research has enumerated several benefits to increased intimate knowledge about autism in the general population. From reducing negative stereotypes, bullying and stigmas; building greater acceptance and opportunities for autistic individuals, and improving the overall wellbeing of individuals and their families—autism knowledge is powerful. Plus, with first responders in healthcare, the NYPD, FDNY, lifeguards and more—the need for intimate autism knowledge is ever more critical.

In the following scenario, identify which reaction you most identify with:

In the supermarket, you see a child throwing a tantrum, shrieking and crying. Would you:

A – Frown and think to yourself that this child has no behavior, and conclude poor parenting.

B – Sympathetically glance at the parent and child, wondering if he or she is autistic and having a tough moment.

C – Cautiously approach the parent and inquire if you can be of any assistance. Perhaps even offer to buy a particular treat the child may enjoy.

In the above scenario and reactions described, I wouldn’t necessarily vilify Reaction A because that individual may not have a clue about autism, much less the behaviors exhibited by some children on the spectrum. Reaction B shows that this individual is aware of autism but prefers to respectfully keep their distance. Reaction C exhibits that this individual is not only aware of autism, but also accepts it and willing to stand in the gap to help.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that everyone should have Reaction C. Some folks have different tolerance levels and respectfully prefer to keep their distance. Sometimes even an element of seeming intrusive may be involved.

The key to the universal understanding of autism is knowledge. Here are five suggestions on how to gain autism knowledge and build awareness and acceptance in your community:

1- Read blogs by caregivers and those on the autism. The more you learn, the easier it is to raise awareness! Some of my favorites are theautismdaddy.com and autismwithasideoffries.blogspot.com

2 – Befriend a parent of a child on the spectrum. Some parents feel isolated. Invite them for a coffee or tea just to chat. Offer to accompany them for a fun day at the park or beach with their children. Invite them to an adult get together. Once childcare is established, parents crave grownup time. Respectfully ask questions about what their daily routines are like and what activities their child enjoys. The goals are to learn and offer solid friendship.

3- Attend and support events organized by local autism/ special needs such as Rockaway St. Camillus Special Olympics and Rockaway Beach Autism Families groups in your community. Just being present is impactful.

To conclude, general population autism knowledge is a critical factor for improved outcomes and well-being for autistic individuals and their families. Members of the general population will be less stigmatizing, have more positive interactions, and feel more confident socializing amongst autistic people when autism knowledge is greater.

Share your thoughts by emailing: kami@rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org. For more info about Rockaway St. Camillus Special Olympics, email: rockspecial20@aol.com. And for more info about Rockaway Beach Autism Families, visit us on Facebook/ Instagram, or rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org

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