Autism Awareness Month calls attention to the fastest-growing developmental disability. Below with Michael J. Cameron, PhD, BCBA-D, of Pacific Child and Family Associates offers some history, how families and caregivers can celebrate and why dedicating a month to autism is important.
1.What is Autism Awareness Month?
Individuals with autism are often misunderstood. Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity to bring attention to autism and issues within the autism community. Since the 1970s, the United States has recognized April as Autism Awareness Month to recognize people diagnosed in the United States.
The dedicated Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon for the month is the most recognized symbol of the autism community. The ribbon is made up of bright colors patterned together as a puzzle piece. The vivid colors are significant because they signal hope. The puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum. Throughout the month, this ribbon is displayed on clothing, social media and in schools as a reminder.
2.What are a few common myths about autism?
Because the broad spectrum or due to media’s reaction, there are a lot of myths about autism. Every individual with autism is the same is the biggest myth. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In reality, no two individuals with autism are the same. The autism spectrum is extremely broad. Individuals’ symptoms vary from almost unnoticeable to more apparent.
Another myth is that autism is caused by vaccines, poor parenting or environmental factors. The exact cause of autism has not been scientifically discovered. Vaccines, parenting and upbringing have all been dismissed as causes. However, an individual’s genes may play a part in autism. If a parent’s first child has autism, it is more likely that the second child will be a person with autism. Twin studies have shown that if one twin has autism, the other has a 90 percent chance of being a person with autism.
Lastly, one of the biggest misconceptions about autism relates to an individual’s behavior. It’s believed that people with autism are violent, unable to form meaningful relationships, or lack empathetic feelings. Violent acts from autistic individuals may arise from sensory overload (when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment) or emotional distress. But the acts, however, are not motivated by malice. Individuals with autism are able to have close relationships, fall in love, and have children. Although social interactions may be difficult for some individuals. What is surprising to many is that people with autism feel as much, if not more, empathy than others even if they express it in ways hard for others to recognize.
3.What can friends do this month to support people who have autism?
April presents many more activities for individuals with autism than the other months of the year. Offer to attend an event with someone you know who has autism or spend time with them doing an activity they love. Parents of children with autism face many challenges. Consider helping out by attending an event with them or offering to take the child to an event.
You can also help raise awareness by wearing the Autism Awareness Month Puzzle Ribbon or posting a picture of the ribbon to your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
4.How can friends, families and caregivers bring awareness to autism all year long?
While Autism Awareness Month calls attention to autism, autism should be recognized all year round. Family members and caregivers can spread awareness and plan activities year-round. Most important is the day-to-day support you can show your loved one. By identifying common interests for yourself and the individual with autism, you can create routine activities that build a relationship and help to meet goals. By fulfilling these activities on an ongoing basis, the individual is exposed to new situations and gets the opportunity to familiarize themselves and grow.
ABOUT DR. MICHAEL J. CAMERON
Dr. Michael J. Cameron, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (Charter Certificant 1-00-0010) is The Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child and Family Associates (PCFA) and experienced in the area of behavioral medicine, behavioral health assessment, intervention for diverse populations, and higher education. Prior to joining PCFA, Dr. Cameron was a tenured Associate Professor and the Founding Chair of the Department of Behavior Analysis at Simmons College. Dr. Cameron earned a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Northeastern University.