Ideas for Autism Awareness Year Round
By Julie Stewart, M.Ed.
As an agency directly focused on supporting the autism community, we are overfilled with joy for dedication of individuals hosting so many activities that occur for Autism Awareness month every April. Information being spread across the Commonwealth will help to change the lives of individuals with autism and their families; however, we know these individuals and families deserve more than an awareness month.
“Autism is more than April” kept running through my mind throughout the month and inspired me to research awareness activities to suggest. These activities and probably any autism awareness activities can be implemented across the year, because truly autism awareness is more than a month.
1) Using fundraising ideas for awareness activities:
The Autism Awareness Club at Milburn High School in Milburn, NJ has sponsored different activities to both raise awareness and also to raise money for Autism Speaks. They have held a dance-a-thon collaboratively with the high school dance club, sold blue candy canes during December, and raffled for a basket of Milburn business gift certificates during their school’s annual MHS Battle of the Classes. During the month of April they raffled off the principal’ parking space for a week, held a Wear Blue to School Day” and read facts about autism each morning during the high school’s daily announcements.
How could you translate some of their activities and ideas into your promotion of autism awareness? Just holding the dance-a-thon outside of April would increase awareness across the year. Consider donating funds raised to a local school or community program.
2) Community Activities:
A popular activity for increasing awareness is to provide a promotion at local restaurants or businesses. For example, providing a certain percentage off at a restaurant for patrons on a specific day and then providing information for folks visiting the restaurant on that day. Or simply partnering with a restaurant and having an awareness night without it being advertised would spread the word to random individuals potentially outside of the autism community.
Some other ideas include:
- Hosting a sensory friendly movie, bowling, or roller skating night.
- Reaching out to your local video store and encouraging them to create a movie display of a movie that features a character who has autism
- Partnering with a bowling alley, bounce house, etc. to set-up a booth with information
- Hosting a book discussion for various age group (i.e., young children, young adult literature, adults)
- “Autismusical” was an event held in Quezon City, Philippines that showcased the talents of individuals’ with autism on stage at a local, popular mall
- Lancaster Public Library in Lancaster, PA had a program that pairs teen volunteers with children with autism ages five to ten in their program called “Artism”. These pairs meet twice a month and practice social skills while working on art projects. Although not appropriate ages for peer interaction, this program provides a nice platform for teaching lots of great skills.
- The firefighters in Springfield, NJ now wear a modified “On-Duty” t-shirt that includes the Autism Speaks logo. They are hoping that this change will increase the public to ask questions and therefore learn more about autism. Also the firefighters have completed the Autism Awareness and Interaction Training Program offered by Prevent-Educate.org to increase their understanding and sensitivity to better support individuals with autism during emergency situations.
In your community what can you do throughout the year to help promote awareness and acceptance of individuals with autism? It may be helpful to plot out across the year what activities you are going to do.
3) General Suggestions:
- Contact your local representatives and have them issue a proclamation supporting autism awareness efforts by the town/city
- Create some visual supports for a student, teacher, or family who needs them, wrap them up as a present, and give them to the deserving person/persons saying “Happy Autism Awareness”
- Send an “Autism Awareness e-card from 123greetings.com or bluemountain.com by searching “autism”
- Have a presence as part of a local or regional festival whenever they occur (i.e., information booth, walk in parade, hand out information, wear awareness paraphernalia)
- Contact your state, and federal representatives asking them to “Vote 4 Autism” (national advocacy campaign orchestrated by the AutismSociety)
- Partner with public radio to have a radio series of interviews with individuals with ASD, professionals who work with individuals, and families of individuals with ASD
- Encourage your public library to expand their resources concerning ASD by providing them with a list of potential books or journals which to subscribe
- Provide awareness trainings at public locations such as libraries, churches, non-profits, political clubs, etc. KATC's website has free resources available to help with awareness trainings including awareness brochures, family guide and webinar training videos.
“Autism is more than April” should be the theme for you in your professional or personal relationship with individuals with autism spectrum disorders. These ideas are just that, ideas. Your creativity makes it “sky is the limit” for what you do and how you promote autism awareness and more importantly acceptance in your community throughout the year. As you begin to expand your awareness activities beyond April please be sure to contact us at the KATC so we can highlight the work you are doing to promote and support the autism community of Kentucky.
Julie Stewart is a Field Training Coordinator for the KY Autism Training Center. She provides direct training and technical assistance to education staff, social and community personnel, counselors, job coaches and families.
KY Autism Training Center Spring 2013 Newsletter May 2013