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April is National Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month

150 150 DC Special Education Cooperative

By Meghan Mulvenna, Behavior Specialist

When I was in undergraduate school, twenty years ago, there was a mention of Autism in a chapter in a textbook about Developmental Disabilities; today, there are full certificate programs focused on Autism. We now consider it to be a spectrum, as the varying ways that people with Autism present and participate is widely different. The CDC estimates 1 in 68 children in the U.S. as having been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder; and an average prevalence in Asia, Europe and North America to be between 1% and 2%.

Beyond the percentages and labels, a benefit over the past two decades has been individuals with Autism sharing their perspectives, talents, and guidance for educators, businesses and community members. Adults on the Autism Spectrum are both boldly and quietly changing the way we see and use neurodiversity. On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, 2015 Microsoft launched their Autism Hiring Program, which not only prioritized locating talent among the Autism community, but also accommodating the way they structured hiring processes to meet the various styles of communication among applicants. “Since inception, 50 full-time employees joined the company through the program and work across dozens of teams at the company, from software engineers and data scientists to content writers.” And there is much more attention going to supporting the transition of students with Autism to life beyond schools, such as the “Autism After 21 Day,” spearheaded by Madison House Autism Foundation.

We are learning more about females on the Autism Spectrum, and how they are often mis-identified until later in life. On April 5th, the United Nations honored World Autism Awareness Day with a session focused on “Empowering Women and Girls with Autism.” The executive director of Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), whose tagline is ‘Nothing about us, without us,’ shared in her closing remarks: “The things autistic women can do when we are supported and free are breathtaking. I have met women who have written books, women who have started companies, women who have invented new ways of seeing the world. I have met women who can’t speak but who type some of the most incisive commentary I’ve ever read, and I have meet women who produce works of art that render me speechless. I have met women who are taking on the world, and women who looked at their local communities and thought, well, I’m going to start here.”

If you have students with autism in your classroom today, imagine you are teaching a change agent for tomorrow!

Here are some local resources for more information, including for families:

Autism Society of America, National organization with local chapters: http://www.autism-society.org

DC Autism Parents: http://www.dcautismparents.org

Madison House Autism Foundation: http://www.madisonhouseautism.org/about-us/