The Truth About Autism Awareness And How You Can Really Help

After one of my children has a public meltdown, I’ll sometimes crack a joke: “Just doing our part for autism awareness.” It’s easy to deflect with humor, but parents of autistic children hate the feeling of having others stare and frown while a person they love struggles — and I am no exception. People with autism, and those who love them, are used to being different, to feeling like they have nothing in common with most of the people around them. So every year when National Autism Awareness Month rolls around, we’re a little skeptical. Blue light bulbs and fun runs in the name of awareness don’t have much of an impact on our daily lives.

If you want to help make a difference for individuals with autism in your community, one of the best things you can do is simply talk to them and their families. There are a few myths they can probably dispel for you. Not everyone with autism looks and acts like Dustin Hoffman from “Rain Man,” possessing a strange talent such as an amazing memory or extraordinary math skills. Instead, autism is a spectrum, and the people on it are just as different from each other as people without it. Someone with autism may seem pretty normal to you when you talk to them; you may not even be able to tell. Many of them are able to function normally, while others are nonverbal and require constant care.

If you know a family who cares for someone with autism, you’ll make a huge difference in their lives by befriending them. If you can, offer to give caretakers a break while you spend time with their autistic relative. Make someone with autism feel loved by being a friend.

To go beyond the people you know, look for local organizations that support individuals with autism and their caretakers. Many large organizations get a lot of publicity, but some of the ones most in need of help are the smaller local and regional groups that offer respite care, therapy, and job skills. By searching online for autism resources in your area, you should find a list of reputable agencies that could use donations and volunteers to help local families.

To make a difference, be a friend and support local organizations. These simple actions make a big difference in the lives of people with autism and their families. Finding understanding friends and knowledgeable therapists meant everything to me after my children were diagnosed. The next time you see a child having a meltdown in a grocery store, it can’t hurt to share a smile and offer to help instead of staring. That’s when autism awareness really makes a difference in someone’s day.

Image source: Jessica Woodbury