Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of neurological conditions that affect brain development and can lead to challenges with social skills, language and communication, learning and behavior. In the United States, 1 in 44 children is diagnosed with ASD, and two percent of adults are estimated to have ASD.

Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness Month, observed annually in April, evolved from the Autism Society of America’s first National Autistic Children’s Week in 1972 and the United Nation’s official observance of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which highlight the need to improve the quality of life of those with ASD so they can lead full and meaningful lives and be an integral part of society.

How does autism awareness help individuals with ASD?

Autism awareness is knowing an individual has ASD and recognizing the signs and symptoms, such as social communication challenges, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Awareness can lead to acceptance and help with:

  • Improved inclusion for people with autism
  • Decreased bullying and exclusion
  • Greater support in schools, at home, etc.
  • A better understanding of ASD in communities
  • Better integration of people with ASD into communities, jobs, etc.

Autism Acceptance Month

Today, Autism Awareness Month has evolved into Autism Acceptance Month. Organized by Paula C. Durbin-Westby, an autistic disability rights activist, Autism Acceptance Day was first observed on April 1, 2011 as a way to counteract negative images of autism prevalent in many autism “awareness” media pieces. Autism Acceptance Day and Autism Acceptance Month quickly became popular in the autistic community. In 2021, the Autism Society formally adopted the name Autism Acceptance Month to foster acceptance and ignite positive change in the lives of those with autism and their families.

How does autism acceptance help individuals with ASD?

Autism acceptance means moving past surface impressions; including individuals with ASD in your activities; and helping them to develop and thrive in the community, and connect with others.
With acceptance from others, individuals with ASD have an easier time navigating life’s everyday challenges without the stress of being judged and ridiculed. Autism acceptance can provide individuals who have ASD:

  • Adequate validation of their condition and emotions
  • Improved self-acceptance, confidence, and mental health
  • Better relationships with peers
  • Increased quality of everyday life

This increased sense of self-acceptance and compassion will give individuals with autism more confidence to interact openly with peers, take part in group activities and try new things.

How can I practice autism acceptance and inclusion?

We can all take actionable steps that encourage acceptance and inclusion of individuals with ASD in our communities.

  • Diversify your child’s bookshelf. Select books with characters of varying abilities, such as ASD. Reading is an excellent way to engage your child in conversations about acceptance and inclusion of differences from a very young age. Three books that focus specifically on ASD are:
    • A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey–This heartfelt story from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum who is on the lookout for a friend who shares, listens, and maybe even likes things to stay the same and all in order, as he does, celebrates the everyday magic of friendship with insight and warmth.
    • A Friend Like Simon by Kate Gaynor–This story is about an autistic child who joins a “typical” classroom and faces many challenges. Young readers will learn how to be mindful of and patient with their autistic peers, while also learning about the many ways an autistic child can contribute to a friendship and community.
    • All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer–Zane the zebra has autism, and he is worried that his friends and classmates will make fun of his stripes, which make him different. As Zane learns having autism is one of the many things that actually makes him special, your child will relate to Zane and realize they, too, have plenty to be proud of.
  • Expand your circle. Expanding your family’s network of friendships and activities to include individuals with different abilities, such as ASD, can provide opportunities for all to connect with and learn from others.
  • Focus on strengths, not just challenges. Many individuals with ASD exhibit highly focused interests, such as technology or animals. Inviting them to participate in activities or groups that involve their interests creates pathways for individuals with ASD to form friendships. Focusing on the unique abilities of individuals with ASD strengthens their sense of self and achievement.

How can I learn more about ASD?

You can find free resources that increase awareness, celebrate differences and support inclusion on our Autism Awareness website, including a recording of the Magellan Healthcare and Kyo webinar, “What is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and how can it help my family?”