While a puzzle piece bumper sticker or a building with blue lights can help draw attention to autism in a basic way, they may not go far enough when it comes to improving awareness and acceptance on the community level. Fortunately, these five ideas can help you share the true experience of autism with adults and children in your school and neighborhood. If people understand the reasons for various behaviors, they are far more likely to be warm and accepting.
Hold a Presentation by an "Autism Expert"
One great way to improve awareness at school or other gathering places is to hold a presentation with an "autism expert." In this case, the expert is the individual with autism. Directly addressing the autism and the different behaviors can help reduce the stigma associated with it. When peers see the individual acting differently or facing a specific challenge, they can react with understanding and compassion. This type of presentation also helps peers see the positive side of the disorder.
This is ideal for a child or teen with high functioning autism, but it can also work with other functioning levels. Here's how to do it:
- Talk to the school special education teacher or other program coordinator to set up the event. Ideally, the coordinator can arrange for a 20-minute period in which peers listen to the presentation.
- Discuss ideas with the individual with autism. Talk about what he or she would like peers to know. Brainstorm some of the behaviors that other may have noticed, such as hand flapping, repeating words or phrases, rocking or shifting from foot to foot, and tapping fingers or feet. Also discuss some of the "gifts" of autism, such as exciting special interests, excellent memory skills in specific areas, and special abilities.
- Get up in front of the group, along with individual with ASD, and directly address the behaviors and the disorder. Talk about what it's like to have autism and how ASD presents a different perspective. Explain that autism comes with challenges, but that it also includes some super powers. Make sure your presentation uses terminology and examples that are appropriate for the age of the audience.
- Welcome questions from the group as long as they are asked in a respectful way. If possible, allow the individual with autism to answer the question first if he or she wants. Step in only if needed.
Share an Autism Bookmark
Print this free autism bookmark to share with friends and community members. When people look at the bookmark, they'll be reminded that individuals on the autism spectrum have different ways of expressing themselves but the same emotional needs as everyone else.
Here's how to make the bookmarks:
- Click on the image of the bookmark. Save the file to your computer. If you need help, check out these tips.
- Print the bookmarks on card stock.
- Cut out the bookmarks.
- Use contact paper or a laminating machine to laminate the bookmarks for durability.
- Pass the bookmarks out to friends.
Set up an Autism Sensory Booth
A great activity for a school or town fair is an autism sensory booth. To make the booth, rig up several different kinds of lights and lots of speakers. Paint the inside of the booth lots of bright colors and make sure there's room for two people to sit down and have a conversation. Print up a list of questions for one person to ask the other, such as the following:
- What did you eat for dinner last night?
- How did you decide what to wear today?
- What's the best dessert you ever had and where did you have it?
- What's your favorite book? Describe the story.
When you're ready to use the booth, have two people go it at a time. Play two or three different kinds of sound effects and music while flashing the lights at various speeds. While this sensory stimulation is going on, one person must ask the other person all the questions on the list. When they come out, talk about how hard it was to try to have a conversation with all the sensory input. Explain that for many people with autism, this is how they must go through the day.
Check Out Autism Awareness Videos
There are lots of great autism awareness videos on the Internet, and these short movies can go a long way toward promoting awareness and acceptance. You can show the videos to students, teachers, and other community members or simply watch them yourself to improve your understanding of the disorder.
Walking Down the Street with ASD
This great video by Craig Thomson, who has autism, simulates the experience of someone with ASD walking down an ordinary city street. The constant sensory overload and distractions are easy to see by watching this film.
Intro to Autism for Kids
A mom of a child with autism created this video so that other kids could understand the disorder. It's a great tool for showing to classrooms or groups of peers.
Showcase the Creative Side of Autism
Sometimes the focus on awareness can seem to promote a negative view of autism, but you can change that perception by holding an art fair to showcase the creative side of the disorder. You can limit the event to a gallery of pieces created by children and adults with ASD, or you can work with autism-affected and neurotypical people to create a joint exhibition devoted to the disorder.
Try these ideas to make your creative showcase a success:
- Include a brief explanation card with each piece of art to talk about the person who created it and the story behind the piece.
- Alternatively, you can make your event a talent show, allowing participants to showcase any type of special talent.
- Call local papers and radio stations to let them know about the event. Consider writing a press release for your show.
- You can make the event free or use the proceeds from admission as a donation to your favorite autism charity.
Create a More Welcoming Environment
Making your community aware of autism can help improve acceptance and understanding. No matter which method you choose for improving awareness, you are helping create a warmer and more welcoming environment for adults and children with ASD.