On April 2nd, we observe World Autism Day, followed by the entire month being dedicated to World Autism Month. These occasions serve as crucial reminders of the significance of understanding, acceptance, and support for individuals on the spectrum.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised including challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication. It’s essential to recognize that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning autistic people can have a wide range of strengths, abilities, and challenges. While some may require significant support in their daily lives, others excel in certain areas such as art, music, mathematics, or science.

Why World Autism Day and Month are Important

These designated days and months are crucial in raising awareness about autism, dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding the disorder and increasing understanding and acceptance from communities worldwide. 

World Autism Day and Month also serve as platforms for advocating for the rights, inclusion, and wellbeing of individuals on the spectrum. It encourages governments, organisations, and individuals to prioritise policies and initiatives that support autistic people.

There are many avenues of support for individuals on the autism spectrum and these events provide an opportunity to highlight these support networks for autistic people and their families. It’s important to recognise the valuable contributions that autistic people make to society and ensure they have access to the resources they need to thrive.

Using the Right Language 

The NHS explains that ‘the language we use to talk about autism is important because it can affect what people think about autistic people’. Therefore it’s really important we get it right as this will help people get the right kind of support and services.

Here are the NHS’s top tips for getting it right

  1. Talk about autism positively. There are many positive things about being autistic. Many autistic people see autism as part of who they are, rather than something separate, and prefer to be described as ‘autistic’ or ‘on the spectrum’ – rather than as ‘someone with autism’.
  2. Do not use negative language like suffering from autism, symptoms and treat. Instead talk about characteristics, support and reasonable adjustments.
  3. Every autistic person is different. Try to make sure people know this in all communications and avoid making generalisations and sweeping statements. 
  4. Autism is not a learning disability or a mental illness. It’s classed as a neurodevelopmental disorder. However, some autistic people also have a learning disability and many people have a mental health problem.
  5. Be mindful of your choice of language. Some people on the autism spectrum understand language very literally. Avoid phrases that don’t say what they mean such as “it’s raining cats and dogs”. Use clear, everyday language.

Supporting Students and Bringing Awareness to Schools

Educational institutions play a pivotal role in creating inclusive environments where students of all abilities feel valued and supported. Here are some ways we can support students and raise awareness in schools:

  1. Staff CPD: Teachers should receive training on understanding autism, recognising its signs, and implementing effective strategies to support students on the spectrum in the classroom. Staff should work closely with the SENDCo or equivalent to make sure that they feel confident to support all students. Staff training should include 
  1. Inclusive curriculum: Incorporate lessons and activities that promote understanding and acceptance of differences, including neurodiversity. Encourage students to learn about autism and celebrate the unique strengths of their peers. Make sure to include learnings about the use of correct language when describing people on the autism spectrum. 
  1. Keep it relevant: Stay up to date with the latest research and guidance with supporting those on the autism spectrum. This includes staying up to date with language used to describe neurodiversity. 
  1. Student voice: Make sure that all students have the opportunity to be involved in student voice activities at your school such as student council, or focus groups. You may need to be deliberate with the make-up of these groups to ensure that all students, including those on the autism spectrum, are represented and able to give their opinions.
  1. Peer Mentoring: Peer mentoring or support programmes can be a great way to foster empathy, promote friendships and support a sense of belonging for all involved. 
  1. Create sensory-friendly spaces: Designate quiet areas in the school where students can retreat if they become overwhelmed by sensory stimuli. Ensure classroom environments are sensory-friendly, with adjustable lighting, noise-canceling headphones, and fidget tools available.

In conclusion, World Autism Day and Month are vital opportunities to promote understanding, acceptance, and support for individuals on the spectrum. One supportive measure is to ensure we are using the correct language to talk about autism and this is a message that can be given in staff CPD and lessons on neurodiversity and differences. An inclusive curriculum and physical space within school are good measures to ensure that neurodivergent students feel supported and included in the school community.

By raising awareness, advocating for their rights, and creating more inclusive environments in schools we can celebrate the diverse strengths and talents of individuals on the autism spectrum and work towards a more inclusive society for all.