Autism Awareness Month takes place each year in April. The goal of this national observance is to promote acceptance, awareness and inclusion for persons with autism.
And what better way to promote autism awareness than through the schools?
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that 1 out of every 68 children have autism. Schools are often one of the first places that early intervention and diagnosis takes place. As a result, schools must be prepared and equipped to provide an adequate and appropriate education for the growing number of children diagnosed with autism. Schools also have a duty to provide an environment in which children with autism are accepted and appreciated.
There are many ways that your school can acknowledge this special month that will be helpful not only for students, but for teachers, administrators, and autism families as well.
Here are a few ideas:
- Teach about Autism. Using age appropriate methods, explain to students what autism is and how to respect others. This can be done in the form of a game, video, craft activity, lecture, or skit. Interactive lessons seem to work best.
- Light It Up Blue! World Autism Awareness Day occurs each year on April 2nd. On that day, Autism Speaks hosts their annual “Light It Up Blue” campaign that encourages people to wear blue and spread autism awareness. Students and staff can take part in this campaign by wearing blue. Other ideas include having a party with all blue food, decorating the school blue, and displaying posters about autism.
- Start a Lunch Buddy program. This is a great way to increase social skills for children with autism. It’s also a great opportunity for other students too! It’s a win win situation. Just be sure to take extra care with matching students with those they may be most compatible with. For example, if you have two students that like airplanes, they will have a common interest to bond over.
- Invite a guest speaker to your school. Autism Speaks, The Autism Society, and many other organizations that serve autism families have guest speakers that are often willing to do presentations in the community. There may also be a person with autism in your local community that would be a great speaker.
- Embrace those that are different. Teach students how to show compassion and empathy for all people. Take a look at your anti-bullying policy and make sure that it is enforced.
- Encourage mainstream opportunities. Evaluate the strengths of children with autism at your school. Remember, we don’t just focus on weaknesses! If a child with autism is excelling in math, look for an opportunity for the child to be a part of a regular education math class, even if it is just for a portion of the class time.
- Hold a fundraiser. For example, have everyone pay $1.00 to wear a hat on a certain day. Have a car wash or bake sale. Craft fairs and auctions are pretty popular too. Donate the proceeds to an autism supporting agency of your choice.
- Host a resource fair. This can be sponsored by the school district for parents. Information about local therapists, support groups, autism friendly child care facilities, handouts about autism, and insurance options would be greatly appreciated! Lunch and free giveaways would be nice too!
- Hold workshops for teachers. Workshops can provide teachers with the most up to date information about autism. This should not only be for Special Education teachers, but for Regular Education teachers as well, since many have children with autism in their classes. A question and answer session would be helpful too, with teachers having a chance to share success stories and areas that they need help in.
I hope that these ideas were helpful to you! What is your school doing for autism awareness month?