Hand in Hand
3860 Middle Road
Bettendorf, IA 52722
563-332-8010

Website updates funded by

Scott County Regional Authority

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  • Samantha Yeager-Walrath

Autism Awareness


April is Autism Awareness Month, and many of you may have read articles or facts about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) throughout the month. Much of the information that is pushed out there to increase awareness of Autism lacks something important: awareness of the people who actually have Autism. We talk a lot about symptoms of ASD, the difficulties parents might face, and the hurdles people with ASD might have to jump over in school, but we rarely take a close look at the individuals who experience these things, and many times you don’t hear about the positive characteristics of these individuals.

As this article points out, for those who don’t know how Autism affects individuals, it might be easy to dismiss people with ASD as weird or eccentric without getting to know why they seem that way, but it’s important to remember to be empathetic and understanding. For example, just because a child is having what may look like an unnecessary tantrum, doesn’t mean the parents aren’t good parents or their child is “out of control”. The child may be overloaded with sensory stimulation or a situation might just be too overwhelming for them, and the child and parents are doing the best they can to handle the situation. In another situation, that child may appear totally in control and "well behaved" because they are more comfortable or may not be overloaded by stimuli.

We are responsible for changing the way we see Autism and the individuals who experience it. It’s important to challenge what we view as “normal” behavior, because when we have a set of defined behaviors we believe are normal, it’s easy to unnecessarily judge those who have Autism. This is vital for adults to do because children pick up on our beliefs and adopt them as their own. If we don’t want our children to bully those with ASD for being “different”, then we need to show them it’s okay to be different. Children will learn how to be open minded and empathetic from the adults in their life, so it’s our responsibility to learn not only about ASD but about the individuals who experience it as well.

You may have heard about commonalities among people who have Autism such as a lack of social skills, struggles with communication, and behaviors such as constant moving or hyper behavior; hand-flapping, rocking, jumping or twirling; repetitive behavior; fixations on objects or activities; and specific routines or rituals. However, no one with ASD is the same as another person. Some people exhibit hardly any symptoms or behaviors at all, while others exhibit many in varying degrees.

It’s important to realize that there’s no “normal” set of symptoms for those who have Autism, and many times their symptoms or behaviors can add to their unique personality, just as people who don’t have ASD have lots of aspects that add to their personalities. For example, some people with Autism may have a knack for data entry or data analysis due to their ability to focus on details that might seem mundane to someone without ASD. Or they may be more artistic and able to create beautiful works of art or play intricate musical pieces. Still others can solve complex problems and become incredibly efficient at it if they are given the right support and environment to optimally process the problems. Finding the strengths and abilities of those with ASD is a huge part of understanding the disorder and helping advance not only those individuals but society as a whole as well. As Mark Smith, Hand-in-Hand’s CEO, puts it, “Don't forget the special, one-of-a-kind characteristics individuals with ASD possess. If you can achieve the very difficult task of converting an interest in computers, details/organization, or creativity into a job skill, you have provided a blessing for us all. Individuals with autism present many challenges, but they may also offer some amazing gifts to future employers and our community.”

At Hand-in-Hand, we have many participants who have ASD and we get to know those participants’ personalities very well. There are some tough moments with those participants as staff learn to work with the challenges their diagnosis can present, but there are also many moments of joy and celebration when milestones are met and exceeded, and as participants grow and become happier and more independent. Here are some insights from staff members about our participants:

“He has the best personality! He always has the brightest smile on his face and loves to sing his ABC’s throughout the day.”

“He knows my name very well, but we have a game where we call each other different celebrities (like Britney Spears or Justin Bieber) instead of our real names. It makes us both laugh, especially if we get creative with the celebrities, and right before I leave the room, he tells me goodbye, using my real name. Talking with him makes my day every time.”

“She isn’t happy 100% of the time, but she is so curious and can be so joyful. Watching her smile because she enjoys the music she’s hearing or making is priceless. She reminds me to smile at the things that make me happy too.”

“When he first attended our preschool program, he was nonverbal and wouldn’t pay attention to anyone. Now he is talking and will pay attention when spoken to, and he will say words and will participate in some of our activities. He has come a long way and he amazes me every time I see him. I love that these children are so loving and teach us new things all the time. They show us that with hard work we can overcome any obstacles in our way!”

Even though Autism Awareness Month is practically over, our hope is that we all remember to be aware all year long, and that we try to be aware of not only Autism but the people who experience it. Get to know someone with ASD and find out how awesome they are, even if they seem different than you.

#autism #autismspectrumdisorder #autismawareness #autismawarenessmonth #asd #openmindedness #handinhand #handinhand #quadcities #specialneeds

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