April is Autism Awareness Month, however, there has been a push for a change in terminology to recognize it as Autism “Acceptance” Month.
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” said Christopher Banks, President and CEO of the Autism Society of America, “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
The organization is advocating for the federal government to officially designate April as Autism Awareness month. Additionally, the Autism community calls on media to move from using “awareness” to “acceptance” this April to foster change and inclusivity for those affected by autism.
According to the CDC, 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the US.
Celebrating differences and improving support and opportunities in education, employment, accessible housing, affordable health care, and comprehensive long-term services and supports are the main focus of this new shift.
People with autism are uniquely vulnerable to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. With disrupted schedules and access to services, it may be difficult to establish a regular routine. It has been particularly challenging for families with individuals who have developmental disorders.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many special education classes K-12 had to close and transition to a distance-learning program. This was not easy for parents, students, or educators.
“Through virtual learning, we could only interact with students through iPads and laptops. I work in a special education classroom so it can be a little tricky when it comes to goals for the students. After a few weeks, our students were able to come back as groups,” said Paula Ramos, a special instruction aide at a local elementary school.
Although students were eventually able to return to the classroom, there was a Group A and B system. This meant students came two days a week and those at home had the opportunity to join virtually for the class’s morning group. They were also given independent home packets and
necessary materials. However, in-classroom instruction is critical for their growth in each student’s unique academic and behavioral goals.
The COVID-19 and Reopening In-Person Learning Framework for K-12 Schools in California, 2020-2021 School Year (July 17, 2020 Framework) permitted schools to reopen for in-person instruction at all grades if they are located in counties in the Red, Orange, or Yellow Tiers under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy. As Kern transitions to the orange tier, all students will finally be able to return to the classroom, next week. Proper CDC safety guidelines and school safety protocols will be maintained.
This will pose both positive and negative challenges as everyone adjusts. The COVID-19 pandemic still holds challenges for the Autism community.
Autism Society-Kern Autism Network is a non-profit organization of parents, grandparents, professionals, and other individuals that have an interest in autism. The organization is completely operated under an all-volunteer board with no paid staff. They provide support, awareness, information, and education to families, professionals, and the public throughout Kern County.
Romana Puget, the Director-President of the Network, explained how Covid-19 hindered the organization from operating at full capacity.
“We stopped all our in-person fundraisers, gala, support groups, parent workshops, educational training, court training, basically all! We started to work from home to ensure we were able to take calls, emails, and Facebook Messages from our families to offer any type of assistance via food, face mask, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, diapers, basic hygiene/cleaning supplies, and in general someone to talk to,” she said.
Fortunately, they were one of the first national organizations to offer Covid-19 supports early on to assist all families seeking resources. They are happy to announce that they will be able to start some of the in-person events and programs with Kern’s move to the orange tier.
“Acceptance is the key that opens the door to empathy, understanding, and equity. It is the force that breaks down labels and stigmas; creating more space in your heart for kindness, care, and advocacy,” Puget said.
Any families or individuals who are seeking a diagnosis or are struggling with the school districts to get services for their child are encouraged to contact Kern Autism. “We are only one phone call away!” Puget assures.