World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Awareness Week, Autism Awareness Month--whatever timeline you want to use--is just the initial spark. Because the reality is that autism doesn’t disappear after April. The stories of individuals and families continue. So here are four simple but powerful ways that you can continue your autism advocacy all year long.
Number One: Educate Yourself.
There is A LOT of autism information out there. The Internet is full of autism-related resources, guides, infographics, images, videos and articles. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed before you even begin. On top of that, it’s hard to know who you can even trust. Anyone can share a questionable resource or tactic on social media or publish a misleading---or ever dangerous--book on Amazon. So what is a concerned caregiver to do? Starting with government data is a good place to start. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) post the most up-to-date autism data on the CDC website. For instance, as of April 2019, the CDC reports that 1 in 59 children are on the autism spectrum. Universities are also good places to turn to for the latest autism information. The Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD) at Vanderbilt University is one example of an educational institution sharing cutting-edge research. By the way, all of the information shared by AnswersNow staff on the website and the AnswersNow autism therapists on our app is evidence-based, meaning it has been tested and shown to work.
Number Two: Be yourself. Embrace Your Authenticity.
There is a reason that this tip is the next one on our list of four powerful ways to increase autism awareness and continue your autism advocacy. Once you’ve gotten your bearings by finding high-quality information, it’s helpful to ask yourself some questions:
What does this information mean for me?
Is this useful for my family’s situation?
Is this safe and something I should try with my child?
The answers to these questions will depend on your unique situation. And to understand your unique situation, you have to understand who you are. This is not an easy task. Fortunately, there are things you can try to discover your individual and family identity. Here are a few suggestions:
Start a daily journal, and write down whatever comes to mind.
What does autism mean to you? How has it impacted your life? Knowing what you know, where do you see yourself heading in the next month? Six months? In the next year?
Take a look through your favorite magazine or book that has pictures.
You can also use Pinterest for this task. As you think about your family’s experience with autism, start scanning through the pictures you find. Which ones stand out to you? Which colors resonate the most? Why do certain pictures make you feel certain ways? The purpose of completing these activities is to pull your brain away from the hundreds of tasks that need to get done every day--and into a calmer, more relaxed mental state. Doing this will get your creative juices flowing and help you develop new insights about what autism means for you and your family.
Number Three: Find Your Tribe
Once you’ve educated yourself (and have gotten tired of all of your newfound wisdom and self-analysis skills) it’s time to get out into the world and find your people. Fortunately, the autism community thrives online, and there are plenty of places you can turn. There are literally hundreds of Facebook groups to choose from, including groups that cater to certain individuals, such as parents in a particular community or part of the country, or parents of older children. There are also forums that you can join, such as the ones run by MyAutismTeam. A word of warning, though. When you turn to strangers online, there is no guarantee that you will get good information. That’s one of the reasons we created AnswersNow. We’ve worked with families for years, and we experienced how frustrated caregivers would become when they couldn’t find good information from authorities that they could trust. The benefit of online communities is that caregivers can easily support and relate to other caregivers. But the downside is that this information is not always backed by evidence and proven to be helpful in your specific situation.
Number Four: Take it the Next Level
If you make it all the way through steps one through three--and on to step four--then you’re quickly becoming an expert. Scratch that. You’re already an expert of your family and your own life, but you’ll now have more tools and knowledge to spread autism awareness and continue your autism advocacy. You’ve put in the hard work to get to this point, so what’s left for you? It’s time to extend your reach. It’s time to take your autism advocacy to the next level. What this specifically means for you will depend on what kinds of resources, nonprofits, and community groups are available in your area.
Most communities have local Autism Society Chapters that organize events and provide resources, training, and support groups. Connecting with an autism hub in your community, such as your local Autism Society chapter, will give you a good lay of the land. What you decide to do next is up to you. Maybe you’ll decide to write a letter to the editor for a local paper--or a letter to your legislator or congressperson--about your experience and everything you’ve learned. Or maybe you’ll want to find an in-person support group or start one of your own!
Remember: Your Autism Story Has Power
And when you combine your story with the resources and networks that are available to you online and in your community, you may discover that your biggest barrier is your imagination and persistence. So, what will you do next? How will you raise autism awareness and keep your autism advocacy going well beyond April and into the other 11 months of the year? You can do this. Because this is your autism story. And your story is still being written.