63% of children with autism say they’ve been victims of bullying. Let that sink in. That’s almost two-thirds of children with autism who are bullied either verbally or physically, and often “triggered” into meltdowns by other kids.
April is Autism Awareness month, a time to fight back against statistics like this one. It starts with education, which leads to understanding and then acceptance.
Let’s start with 3 facts about autism you may not know:
Autism Is Common
According to the latest research, one in 68 children in the United States has autism, according to the CDC. As little as 15 years ago, that number was one in 150. Chances are, there is a child with autism in your kid’s grade level, which is why it’s important to help them understand.
Autism Isn’t The Same
Autism is a spectrum; there is a wide range of challenges, and also opportunities, for each person with autism. Some children are nonverbal, meaning they don’t speak. Others may struggle in social situations or when a routine is disrupted. Each person with autism is unique, and so are the ways to approach and interact with them.
Autism is Lifelong
There is no cure for autism; those who have autism will have it for life. The signs can appear early on, even before a child’s first birthday. However, most children aren’t diagnosed until age four. Every year, some 50,000 teens with autism become adults and lose the support they get from school settings. There are few support groups for adults with autism, and the need is growing for more.
How can parents help their children understand autism and grow in acceptance of their peers? This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a place to start:
Teach “Different is Okay”
Talk to your kids about the all the ways we are different, whether it’s our eye color, our favorite toy or whether we have a disorder like autism. And then also teach them how we’re the same. It’s important to reinforce with our children that we are all unique, and that’s more than okay.
Sesame Street recently introduced Julia, a muppet with autism. You can watch the videos online with your kids. The other Sesame Street characters explain how Julia is different, and also how much they have in common. The ways they interact with Julia are great lessons in the different ways to engage with someone with autism.
Find Ways to Include
Some children with autism are sensitive to bright lights and loud noises. An arcade or amusement park may be too much stimulation for them. Parents and kids can keep this in mind when planning birthday parties and playdates. Holding these events in places where everyone is comfortable will make a huge difference in making them feel relaxed and included.