The Au-some A-squad | Promoting Autism Awareness at School | Written by Megan Elizabeth
April is quickly approaching and I am so excited to celebrate World Autism Awareness Month! While autism is something that I am “aware” of every month and day of the year, I appreciate the fact that April is a time where places and people all over the world come together to promote awareness and acceptance of autism, and to celebrate those on the spectrum.
Last year, our elementary school did an event to celebrate ‘Light It Up Blue’ and to promote autism awareness. In the past, I have spoken to my boys’ homerooms about autism and how it presents itself in my boys, but I really wanted this event to be something the entire school could benefit from, seeing as how my boys are not the only kiddos with autism at their school.
I got together with one of my friends (another fabulous autism mom) and we came up with a list of ideas/activities to do with the children at our school to help educate them on autism and to promote kindness and acceptance for their classmates. We came up with about five different ideas and decided to present them to our special education department and our building principal. We were hoping that they would pick one or two ideas for the children to do during the month of April.
Much to our surprise, they wanted to implement ALL of our ideas!
The main event took place at the end of March during a morning assembly for the entire school. The children started their day by watching videos within their homerooms that explained what autism was. YouTube has some GREAT videos for every different age group of kids (The Sesame Street videos are a personal favorite of mine for the younger viewers!). After watching the videos and having a brief discussion within their classrooms about autism, everyone met in the library. Our principal led a discussion about autism and how everyone has things about them that make them unique and different. We also invited all of the children and staff to wear blue on this day, and they ended their assembly by creating a giant blue light bulb in the gym! As an autism parent, it was an amazing thing to see!
After the assembly, I had the opportunity to spend time in my boys’ homeroom classes where I answered questions about autism and the boys. My younger son was in kindergarten at the time. My conversation with his class went a little like this-
Student 1: “What is Asher’s favorite movie?”
Me: “Well, he likes the Lego Batman movie right now.”
Student 1: “Ahh! I like the Batman movie too!”
Student 2: “What kind of food does Asher like to eat?”
Me: “He likes apples, and chicken nuggets, and pizza…”
Student 2: “That’s what I eat too!”
Clearly, the benefit to having these conversations with the younger kids was to help them see that my son was JUST like them! Sure, he can’t talk like they do, and he doesn’t play the way they play, but they have FAR more in common than what divides them.
My older son was in second grade at the time, and their questions were way more in depth than even I was prepared for. These kids had been around my son longer and they have gotten to know him and care about him over the years. Their questions went along the lines of this-
“What will AJ’s future be like?”
“Is AJ’s life hard?”
“How did you feel when AJ got diagnosed?”
Pretty insightful for 8 year olds! Giving kids the opportunity to ask questions and expand their knowledge in a safe environment can lead to amazing things! It was so apparent to me that these kids truly cared about my son and wanted to know and understand him better.
In addition to the events we did that day, we had two other activities that took place over the course of the month. The first was an autism fundraiser that we did. Each grade raised money for an autism organization and competed against each other in a “Penny War”. The winning class received a cupcake party, and we had some amazing blue puzzle piece cupcakes made by a local baker!
The final project we did is my favorite! Each student and staff member was given a puzzle piece to decorate. We asked them to include their name, a photo/drawing of themselves, and then any other colors/decorations that they felt represented them. We mixed all of these puzzles pieces up and created a giant collage to display in our cafeteria. The idea behind this project is that everyone is unique and different, just like the different puzzle pieces. However, EVERY student (and every puzzle piece) is needed to come together to make our school (and our puzzle) whole.
Autism Awareness Month gives us the perfect opportunity to share about autism and to spread the message of kindness and acceptance. It’s a time to celebrate all of the hard work of those with autism, as well as their families, therapists, school teams, etc. I look forward to this month every year, and I do my best to spread a little more awareness in hopes of creating a kinder and more accepting world for my boys!