Autism Awareness
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April is Autism Awareness Month, a time when all of us can learn more, open our minds and step up to be a better ally for the ASD community:

 

Global (08 April 2024) — Across the globe, April marks Autism Awareness Month; an important time where everyone is encouraged to carve out more awareness surrounding one of the most misunderstood human experiences—life on the spectrum.

Like many other days and months of recognition, the takeaway shouldn’t be to only focus on the matter for a specific period of time and then pay no mind to it for all the other months of the year. Instead, the real goal is to spotlight the struggles that aren’t always seen and are less understood, with the intention to pay it forward for these communities where possible, whenever possible.

In the spotlight this month is Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD— a type of neurodivergence (read, mental difference) that has long been overlooked and misunderstood.

The task for the neurotypical community this Autism Awareness Month is simple: open your mind, learn what ASD is all about and consider ways society could do better (and there are many ways) for the ASD community here in South Africa and beyond.

Quick Need-to-Knows About Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • It’s estimated that around 1-2% of South Africans are on the spectrum (but many people don’t even realise they are Autistic until much later in life as ASD symptoms can often be confused—when not properly diagnosed—as ADHD, especially in its earliest stages.
  • ASD looks different on everyone, which is why it is considered a spectrum! One person might exhibit more commonly acknowledged symptoms (non-verbalism or hyper-fixation on a special interest) while another might be more high-masking or high-functioning.
  • Being on the ASD spectrum does not mean the brain ‘doesn’t work’. In fact, in so many cases, the Autistic mind can work in the most beautiful, creative and ingenious ways. What being on the spectrum means in a nutshell, is that one’s brain has developed differently. As such, the experience of life will be different—from one’s senses to how information is processed. The challenge is that most of society is designed for neurotypical realities—which is up to us as the public to push for more inclusivity and understanding.

You can take a deeper dive into life with ASD here!

What Can Allies of Those on the Spectrum Do to Make Life Better for the ASD Community?

While raising a child on the spectrum is a different topic, it takes a village to raise marginalised groups, up. Here are some ways that we can support our friends and loved ones with ASD:

  • Understand that the Autistic experience of life is just as valid as the neurotypical way of life. It is a lifelong story, not a chapter.
  • Instead of trying to make those on the spectrum ‘fit in’ to certain flavours of society, think about ways we can make society more accessible for them.
  • Support ASD loved ones in their special interests if they have them!
  • Be patient, open-minded and compassionate—and encourage new people to do the same before meeting an ASD person you know.
  • Ask your higher-functioning friends about their personal experiences with ASD if they’re comfortable communicating about it (ie: things that bother them, inspire them etc). Learning more and as much as you can, goes a long way for someone society often brushes aside.
  • Support neurodivergent-positive businesses, events and organisations like Special Knead Cafe, Spectrum Cooks, Clayden’s Designs,and Autism South Africa.
  • Push for more inclusive workplaces and educational opportunities.
  • Encourage your Autistic friends to get professional support if they need it, no matter their age (Spectrum Centre is a great resource).

Sources: GTG (Various, Linked Above) 
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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