April is National Autism Awareness Month, which raises awareness and promotes inclusion for those living with autism. Autism is a developmental disability which affects how the brain functions. It can influence how people interact and communicate with others, but what many people don’t know is that this disorder does not prevent those with autism from doing incredible things. Those with autism have gone on to graduate college, write best-selling books, become famous musicians and more. In addition, some of the world’s most famous celebrities have shared that they or a loved one has been diagnosed with autism, showcasing how successful people with autism can be.
According to the Autism Society, one in 59 American children are on the autism spectrum. This statistic alone shows how important it is for society as a whole to understand the disorder and accept those living with autism.
Autism Awareness, Research & Education
An increase in autism awareness in recent years has fueled more research, helping parents and doctors understand more about raising children with autism and understanding the difference in brain function in those on the autism spectrum.
Several experts who have helped lead research and awareness of autism are Barry M. Prizant, PhD, who is one of the world’s leading experts on autism, and Lisa Genova, PhD, a bestselling author who has appeared on the The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, Fox News and more.
Increased awareness of autism has led to more acceptance of those with autism. A great example of society embracing autism and dedicating time to autism education was set by Sesame Street in 2017, when the popular TV show for children introduced its first character with autism, Julia. Her presence on the show helps to educate a younger generation on what it’s like to live with autism, and her character is played by Stacey Gordon, whose son is autistic.
Autism Awareness to Prevent Disease Outbreak
Raising awareness about the disorder isn’t the only reason why autism research is so important. Understanding what does (and doesn’t) cause autism can help demystify the disorder.
Much of the conversation and controversy surrounding autism recently has stemmed from unfounded concerns that vaccines cause autism. However, it has been proven again and again that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
Recently, there have been almost 400 cases of measles in the United States. Measles is usually prevented by vaccinations, but with the wave of anti-vaxxers and those who are too young or otherwise unable to be vaccinated, the disease, which was previously nearly eradicated, has now come back. Through Autism Awareness Month, people can destigmatize autism and understand that unfounded fears of autism should not be a reason to leave your child unvaccinated.
Role Models With Autism
The Autism Society created the autism awareness movement in order to promote inclusion and allow every person with autism to reach their full potential.
Famous scientist and autism advocate Temple Grandin, PhD serves as a role model for all of those with autism dreaming of a career in science. She is currently a professor at Colorado State University, has an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a masters and doctoral degree in animal science. She is a renowned voice in the livestock industry and has overcome the challenges and stigmas associated with autism.
Read More: Temple Grandin: Advocate for Autism and Animal Rights
Many athletes with autism have made names for themselves in their sports. Clay Marzo, an innovative and creative surfer, has Asperger’s. Jason McElwain, an autistic amateur athlete, gained national attention when he scored 20 points in a high school basketball game after playing only four minutes. Their stories highlight the endless capabilities for athletes with autism and show that an autism diagnosis does not mean someone cannot have a successful career in whatever industry they are passionate about.
Some famous actors and celebrities with autism include Daryl Hannah, Dan Harmon, Dan Aykroyd and Susan Boyle. Many writers and actors cite their different way of thinking as helpful in coming up with creative stories for television and movies. Many celebrities with autism find massive success in their jobs. Out of the names above, these personalities have been on Saturday Night Live, created massively popular television shows, worked with Quentin Tarantino, starred in Ghostbusters and performed for royalty.
Many authors with autism have shared their experiences with others through their writing. Through sharing their personal stories, they are helping to educate the world on what it is like to live with autism. Growing up with autism can be difficult, particularly for those who realized something was different about them, but were not diagnosed with autism until adulthood. Authors such as Tyler McNamer, Naoki Higashida and Jennifer Cook O’Toole have published their stories of autism and learning to understand what makes them unique.
Fighting for Equal Opportunity for Those with Autism
In addition to those living with autism, there are many others advocating for those with autism. For example, Randy Lewis, former Senior Vice President of Supply Chain and Logistics at Walgreens, and father to a son with autism, has fought to open the door for opportunities for autistic workers. After seeing how his son was often either overlooked or underpaid at work, he set out to disprove the notion that autistic workers were unable to perform at work.
Related: Randy Lewis: Enabling the Disabled
What You Can Do To Support Autism Awareness Month
The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most common symbol for autism, and you can show your support this month by wearing a ribbon or changing your online profile picture on Facebook or Twitter to the puzzle ribbon. These sites often provide filters to add around your existing profile picture, or you can upload a picture of the ribbon to show your support.
Follow these outspoken Autism Awareness Speakers to learn more about the topic, and what you can do to support the cause.