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Autism Awareness Day: A Time for Acceptance and Action

April 2 marks the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day – a day to recognize people living with autism. Cities around the globe have hosted events recognizing Autism on this day, and many notable places celebrate the day by participating in “Light it up Blue.” Last year, buildings such as the White House, Rockefeller Center and the CN tower in Toronto, and special places in Egypt, Poland, Nepal, Thailand, Greece and Turkey were illuminated in blue light to increase Autism awareness.

This international day of recognition for autism signals the need for us all to take action on behalf of, and alongside, those with autism. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects 1 in 68 young people. It can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development; from significant impacts on language and cognitive functioning, to more subtle symptoms like difficulty making friends and limitations in employment.

In the past 10 years, people affected by autism have significantly raised awareness. Additionally, they have begun discussions about improving acceptance and increasing action for people with autism. The hope for many of us is that we can start to move on from autism awareness, to autism acceptance and action.

In the last 10 years, the options for people with autism have expanded considerably, from access to early intervention – which helps young children get a good start – to support services in colleges and in the workplace. There is more expertise and awareness in the medical and mental health worlds, in educational settings, workplaces and recreational settings. The arts and media represent autism in their stories and programs more frequently. These are all things to celebrate.

World Autism Awareness Day also serves to launch April as Autism Awareness Month. During this month we have the opportunity to ask ourselves, “What is still left to do?” In some places there is still much work to be done to offer assessment and diagnostic services, to overcome stigma, to train professionals and to make needed services available to people with autism and their loved ones.

We need to work on inclusion into communities, more specific job coaching programs and more specialized care for those with complex forms of autism, or who have other medical or mental health conditions. We need to find ways to support, understand, accept and encourage individuals with autism and their families in more robust and meaningful ways. Action to get these needs met is the next logical step after awareness has been improved.

I encourage us all to take this special day to commit to reaching out to those around us who have differences, unique perspectives or life pathways, or who need a helping, encouraging hand. Those of us with our own differences can speak up to offer our unique voices to the conversation. If we can expand our horizons in our own lives, we will do a better job of making room for everyone, everyday, including those with autism.

Learn more about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s autism research and how you can be part of our SPARK study, by clicking here.

Jacqueline Wynn, PhD, BCBA-D
Jacquie Wynn, PhD, is a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is the founding director of the NCH Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, which opened its doors in 2000, and is a faculty member of the OSU School of Medicine. Jacquie is married (to another psychologist!) and has three busy children, ages 11, 9, and 6. She enjoys her work and her children, and looks forward to travel and hobbies sometime in the future!

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