April is Autism Awareness Month and there are always a variety of different events happening to raise awareness. We have “Light it up Blue” on April 2nd where businesses light up blue for awareness. We have a multitude of walks, runs, and sporting events that are all being held to raise awareness. All of these things are absolutely wonderful and they do raise awareness and funding for autism.
What if this year we not only raised awareness but also developed lasting relationships that could carry on all year long and possibly even longer? What if we scheduled an Autism Friendship Day?
Autism Friendship Day
What is Autism Friendship Day, you may ask? Children both on and off the spectrum could meet at a park or event. There would be same aged peers there for the children on the spectrum to meet. Their peers could sign up to be a “buddy” (along the lines of big brothers/big sisters) but specifically for children on the spectrum.
The “buddy” could then spend time with the child on the spectrum weekly and help them navigate through life. The “buddy” would also learn about their new friend and this could help with compassion amongst their peers. It would be important that the “buddy” have similar interests as the child.
This could be a day which children on the spectrum could share their feelings about being on the spectrum. They could celebrate their uniqueness and what makes them special — possibly put a little paper together about how they feel, discuss their sensory issues, discuss their interests, discuss their struggles and successes.
If the child doesn’t want to share, the parent/guardian can share for them or there could be a wall of notes written by the children for others to read. This could take place at a community center, at a scheduled event, maybe even at your child’s school.
It is wonderful to raise awareness to autism among the adult community but the children are the ones going through school where they may or may not be accepted. I have had the pleasure of working with a multitude of children on varying levels of the spectrum and each and every one of them were brilliant in their own way and taught me something.
I understand some parents don’t want their child “singled out” for “being different” but our differences are exactly what make us unique. If other children understood the daily struggles a child on the spectrum goes through they may just be a bit more understanding when that child “shuts down” in class or has a “melt down.” The child could share their knowledge with the class about their interests. As we know when a child on the spectrum fixates on something they become an expert on the topic.
I have learned so much from my students! If the child attains a “buddy” think of how positive this could be! Someone for them to talk to about the “unwritten rules” of school and society. It’s great if they can talk to a parent, but let’s face it, times have changed and parents may not know exactly how things are working these days.
So this year don’t only raise awareness, help your child make a true connection!
Lisa Timms has a Master of Science Degree from the University of Scranton. She is the author of “60 Social Situations and Discussion Starters” published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. You can find her book online at http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849058629. She is also the creator of The Timms Social Skills Program. A live, fun, interactive, peer-to-peer online social skills program which is offered nationally for students ages 6-18 with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD and/or related disabilities or atypical students who may be struggling with their problem solving and/or social skills.
This article was featured in Issue 46 – The Time for Acceptance