Every year on 2 April, World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) shines the light on this developmental disorder to increase knowledge and acceptance of people with autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  This day celebrates the uniqueness of people with ASD and encourages people to help create a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential. This year’s theme, “Inclusive Quality Education for All”, emphasises the importance of leaving no child behind. It encourages the need for inclusive quality education which in turn is helping people with autism thrive.

What is autism?

Autism or ASD is a pre-birth disorder, that develops in the womb and becomes more noticeable from around the ages of two to three years. Autism is not a disease. There is no known “cure”. Many people with ASD struggle with things like loud music, bright lights, strong smells, or weird textures which all have the potential to create anxiety in them.

People with ASD do not look any different from anyone else, but often behave, communicate, and learn differently. Because autism is what is known as a “spectrum” condition, symptoms range from mild to severe.

Since people with the disorder process their emotions on an extreme level, they can also be forced to either mask their emotions or be over-expressive. They find information overload overwhelming which is why we need to be mindful of how they experience the world – especially in the classroom.

Helping people with autism thrive

If you or someone you know has a child with autism, it can be confusing and frightening. No one is ever prepared for this lifelong condition but there are ways to help them thrive in and out of the classroom.

  • Be consistent

People with ASD can have a tough time applying what they’ve learnt, at home or at school. A consistent learning environment is the best way to ensure they continue their communication techniques. It’s important to be consistent in the way we interact with people with ASD.

  • Stick to a schedule

Highly structured schedules or routines help people with ASD to cope better. Regular mealtimes, therapy, school, and bedtimes are important. If you come across an unavoidable change in routine, prepare them for it.

  • Reward or praise good behaviour

Catch them doing something good – positive reinforcement goes a long way with people with ASD. Giving them something they like – a sticker or a favourite toy – is a wonderful way to reward them for good behaviour. Remember to do this away from large crowds or groups of people since they like one-on-one attention.

  • Create a safe space

Section out a space for them to relax in, and to feel safe and secure. Organising visual aids such as colourful signs can also be helpful for them to understand boundaries in the home or classroom. Ensure the room is safety proof in the case of tantrums or harmful behaviours.

  • Make time for fun

Play is an important part of learning. Find out what fun activities you both enjoy outside of the usual therapeutic and educational activities.

  • Find help and support

Caring for people with ASD can be demanding. Don’t try to do everything alone. Join a local ASD support group or make sure to see a therapist of your own to help decrease stress and anxiety.