Celebrating Autism Awareness Month: Students Speak, We Listen

This blog was written by Zane Landin, Intern, Speaks 2 Inspire: 

In 2007, the United Nations declared April 2nd to be World Autism Awareness Day. This holiday celebrates and commemorates the important contributions that people with autism provide across the globe. It’s also an opportunity to shed light on the oppression and countless barriers that people with autism face.

By understanding their lived experiences, we can produce a framework on which to better support the autistic community. Proactive changes are the key to creating a world that is more accessible and understanding for people with autism and other neurodiverse disabilities.

COVID-19 catalyzed inequalities by reducing (or altogether discontinuing) school, community, and home-based services. During the pandemic, we learned the integral importance of advocating for inclusive, diverse, and accessible practices. We all deserve opportunities and spaces to shine and thrive. Our world will not move forward until we consider the perspectives and experiences of people with autism.

At Speaks 2 Inspire, we are committed to empowering the next generation of young adults and normalizing mental health conversations. This includes supporting people with autism. Studies show that neurodiverse people are more susceptible to bullying, suicide, and substance abuse. Research also reveals that people with autism are more likely to experience mental health issues than the general population, with rates around 50 to 70%.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a highly misunderstood disability. Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder classified by different challenges, including speech communication, verbal communication, and repetitive or restrictive behaviors. These symptoms often interfere with the person’s ability to interact with others and follow neurotypical social norms. More than 2% of American adults are diagnosed with autism, and it’s estimated that 1 in every 59 children has autism. This population encompasses millions of people who deserve equity, fairness, and empathy.

More students with autism are entering universities than ever before, so it’s important for campuses to learn how they can transform student life and academic resources. Although only 1.7% of college students have autism, the population has an 80% dropout rate. These statistics are alarming. Higher education can and should be more active in supporting students with autism; this includes clear instructions about how to access accommodations, more visibility for mental health services, safe spaces for self-expression, and open dialogue with university leaders. We also encourage campuses to consider implementing training for faculty and staff.

People with autism frequently experience ableism, also known as discrimination against people with disabilities. Prejudice, isolation, microaggressions, and even violence are all too common. People with autism also routinely struggle with social interactions due to a variety of factors, including confused social and communication cues.

Many neurotypical people do not understand what autism is, so they don’t know how to provide support. These ingrained biases and social stigma lead to avoidance and exclusion. Luckily, the world is beginning to acknowledge disability pride and culture by embracing people with disabilities. World Autism Awareness Day is the perfect moment to educate others and demystify what it means to have autism.

Whether you have autism, know someone who does, or just want to support a diverse and kind community, everyone is encouraged to participate in World Autism Awareness Day. Reflect on the situation and consider your role. How can you celebrate people with autism by showing up as an advocate, ally, or friend? Start by educating yourself and posting your support or starting a conversation on social media.

Your support matters. Together, we can create a world where people with autism are supported to reach their full potential.

Connect with the writer, Zane, on LinkedIn.

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