The True Meaning of Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness Month marks an important time for individuals, families and communities to honor and unite for many reasons. At the Autism Program at Boston Medical Center, we work with hundreds of families each year through direct patient support, family navigation and community-wide initiatives, such as our Parent Leadership in Autism Network (PLAN), Teens Engaged as Mentors (TEAM) program and dozens of parent/professional trainings and outreach events.

Our children and their families remind us each day of the gains that have been made in understanding and supporting those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but also the enormous amount of work that remains to be done.

The phrase “Autism Awareness and Acceptance” can elicit many feelings, and today, I would challenge us all to consider what it truly means. What follows is a summary of some of the lessons I have learned from some of the most capable, loving, devoted and remarkable parents I know. I dedicate these words and my forever gratitude to them for imparting their wisdom onto me.

Awareness and acceptance is to be open, to be compassionate and most importantly, to be kind.

Give a smile to the mom in the grocery store whose child is tantrumming over the candy bar that she’s so desperately managing to keep him from. Invite the child with autism to your child’s birthday party and make sure that those parents know that their child is genuinely welcome—whether it be for five minutes, for an hour or maybe hopefully, the entire time. If a child falls apart in your presence, ask that parent, “what can I do to make this better for you?”

Ask questions. Reserve judgment. Don’t assume you know more than you do.

Give your friend a hug or the squeeze of your hand when their child has the bravery to make it through a school performance. Be there for her with a shoulder to lean on, in her isolation, when he does not. Teach your children about inclusivity, that it is not merely a concept or an accommodation but a lesson in how we treat others. It is a horrible feeling to be excluded and there are gifts of friendship to be found in all of us. Acceptance is not simply to tolerate one another but to value our differences and to recognize the strengths that lie within all people.

Everybody has differences. All people matter.

Work harder to reach out. Be kind. Teach your kids about the act of kindness and that kindness benefits everybody. Know that kindness needs to be taught and continuously reinforced. Be proactive to affect change. Imagine what you would want if the tables were turned.

Stand up for the rights of all people, whether your child is “neurotypical,” “quirky,” “special needs,” “disabled,” “differently abled,” different,” or any label. A label does not even begin to tell the whole story about a child, their family or, their strength in love.

To learn how to create an effective IEP for your child with autism, check out the Exceptional Lives IEP Guide: