April is Autism Awareness Month and, as a mother to a child with autism, I wanted to share my perspective on compassion and how it relates to how you treat those on the spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder is currently present in 1 out of every 68 children in the U.S (https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html). These numbers have increased exponentially over time and will most likely increase, if the pattern continues. With rates having increased 30% since 2012, we need to increase autism awareness so that children can begin receiving the help that they need as early as possible.
My now three-year-old son was developing normally until he hit a regression at 15 months. He became more serious and rigid and began toe walking, flapping his hands, spinning in circles, and lining up his toys. He lost his 10-word vocabulary and his interest in other children. This happened basically overnight and inspired me to do some research. With a concern of autism, I discussed his behaviors with his doctor. She recommended looking into getting a diagnosis and beginning early intervention services.
After my son received his diagnosis, at 21-months, he began speech, occupational, and ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. He has since made incredible progress and mainly only struggles with social issues, transitions, and a slightly lesser vocabulary than his fellow three-year-old peers. He is now in an autism specific preschool program and absolutely loves it.
While my son has made amazing strides, I worry over the possibility of another regression in the future. I also fear how his “normally” developing peers will treat him in the future. According to a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network, “A total of 63% of 1,167 children with ASD, ages 6 to 15, had been bullied at some point in their lives” (https://www.iancommunity.org/cs/ian_research_reports/ian_research_report_bullying). Knowing that the majority of children on the spectrum have been bullied breaks my heart for my son.
The most effective way of lowering this tragic statistic is through educating our neurotypical children on what autism is and what an affect their words can make on a person. “Autism”, as defined by Autism Speaks, “refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences” (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism). According to Psychology Today, children with autism are 28 times more likely to attempt suicide (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/aspergers-diary/201303/new-research-autism-and-suicide). If those with autism felt more accepted, I have no doubt that this statistic would be lower.
One form of educating your kids about autism is through children’s books on the topic. Below is a list of seven titles to read with your children.
1. “My Friend with Autism” by Beverly Bishop
2. “My Brother Charlie” by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete
3. “Everybody is Different: A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters With Autism” by Fiona Bleach
4. “Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism: An Insight into the Autistic Mind” by Max Miller
5. “I See Things Differently: A First Look at Autism” by Pat Thomas
6. “Since We’re Friends: An Autism Picture Book” by Celeste Shally
7. “All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism” by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
By talking to your children about autism, and other developmental disorders, they will understand that they ought to be treated with respect as equals. Raising compassionate kids can truly save lives.