April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. One in 54 children in the U.S. is autistic, and especially since autism presents differently in different people, it’s likely that you and your children will know — or already know — someone who is on the autism spectrum. Even if your own children are neurotypical, it’s a good idea to develop an understanding of what autism is and how you can be a good ally.
We turned to The Autism Cafe, by autistic blogger (and parent of an autistic child) Eileen Lamb, for some food for thought this Autism Awareness Month.
Autism isn’t always obvious.
Eileen wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was an adult — after her son received his diagnosis.
“Until that point, the only people with autism I’d encountered were in movies: either geniuses or the wholly clueless, awkward, and socially inept,” she writes. “I was neither.”
While it was overwhelming to learn that she was autistic, Eileen says it helped her better understand why she had a hard time fitting in and relating to her peers:
“Knowing from where these issues stem helps me work around them. And if it’s not an issue to work around, it just helps me know myself better.”
Autism stereotypes abound.
In a post called Autism Myths Debunked, Eileen dispels many of the lingering stereotypes about autism, from the idea that autistic people lack empathy to the “Rain Man”-inspired misconception that autism comes with some kind of “incredible splinter skill.”
“I do have a few useless skills, like remembering dates and events from years ago,” Eileen writes. “I can tell you what I was wearing on May 28th, 2003 and what I ate on that day. Sadly that great memory doesn’t help me in any way when it comes to finding my keys or cell phone.”
Autistic children can listen and understand.
Eileen’s son Charlie is nonverbal — but she wants you to remember that you shouldn’t talk about him, or any nonspeaking person, like he isn’t there.
“When you’re around nonverbal people, remember that just because they can’t speak doesn’t mean they can’t communicate,” she writes. “And just because they can’t answer you doesn’t mean they don’t hear you or understand you.” Speak to an autistic person — adult or child — as you would a neurotypical person, whether or not they are able to respond.
Autistic people are not a monolith.
Within the autism community, there are a variety of perspectives and opinions about how to discuss, label and treat autism.
“There isn’t a single autistic voice, and there’s not a single form of autism,” Eileen writes. “If you’re looking to learn more about autism, have conversations with an autistic person, and then another, and then another.”