The United Nations has designated April 2, 2012 as the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day.
Most people in the U.S. know someone with autism – a friend, neighbor, classmate or relative – because one in 88 American children (one in 54 American boys) is on the autism spectrum, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
What can you do to show your support for families of individuals with autism?
Here are 10 ideas for World Autism Awareness Day – and not a single one involves writing a check.
10. Put up Yard Signs
Make a sign for your front door or lawn: “I Love Someone With Autism” or “Autism Awareness: Be Understanding. Be Aware.”
9. Say a Prayer
If you’re the type of person who likes to pray, say a prayer for compassion and tolerance for individuals with autism and their caregivers. Then spend the rest of your day being a compassionate and tolerant person.
8. Join the crowd
Show up for an autism awareness walk or go to a rally supporting autism insurance reform in your state. Everyone will be happy to see you there.
Write a letter to your local school board in support of autism education. Keep your letter short and sweet with something like this:
“Dear School Board Member,
I am writing as a taxpayer to express my support for inclusion-based Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) programs and peer-to-peer support in our schools. Inclusion and peer-to-peer support are both successful, cost-effective, evidence-based practices for ASD students. These strategies are the best way to help ASD students learn to live and work independently as adults, which means they will be less dependent on government support in the long run. Thank you for your time and consideration.”
6. Be a Friend
If you know a caregiver, call and chat for 2 or 3 minutes. You don’t have to talk about autism, you can just talk about what you ate for lunch and that movie you saw last night. Many caregivers, including myself, do not have the opportunity to speak with other adults during the day.
5. Stand Up, Speak Out
If you overhear someone at work or in the grocery store saying something inconsiderate about autism or any disability, speak up. Don’t let it pass.
4. Be an Amazing Neighbor
Many families in the autism community fall behind on lawn and home maintenance because of other needs at home, and they don’t hire a lawn service because of the high cost of therapy. So go over and offer to mow their lawn just this once, or to fix the broken garage door.
3. Be a Gracious Host
Invite a person with autism over for a cup of tea, or a family with an autistic child over for a playdate. Ask what you can do to make everyone comfortable.
2. Words From The Heart Enter The Heart
Pay a compliment to a family that is obviously struggling. Kind words such as, “You have a beautiful family. You are doing something wonderful for your children,” can change the direction of someone’s day.
1. Get Yourself Adopted
And the number one way to celebrate Autism Awareness Day is to spend an hour with a person who has autism. Let someone adopt you as an aunt or uncle today. Don’t assume that your company is unwanted or that the person already has enough support from extended family.
My children have 12 aunts and uncles who have not spoken to them at all in the past year, and have not seen them since 2009. I don’t know how to explain that to my children, but I do know that my kids remember every person who has ever visited our home.
Autism teaches us to live in the moment, so seize the day: go for a walk, stomp in some mud puddles, play with Legos, learn something new with that person who is waiting for you right now.