World Autism Day. History, facts and ways to get involved

Text autism and hands forming a heart with puzzle pieces

What is autism?

“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today.” (What Is Autism? | Autism Speaks, 2020)

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, not all types of autism symptoms and behaviors are exactly the same – in actuality, there are many subtypes, influenced by a mix of environmental factors and genetics. Therefore, each person diagnosed with autism has a unique set of strengths and challenges.

Taking all this into consideration, it is easy to understand why people with autism think, learn and solve problems in a variety of ways – from comfortably easy to severely challenging. Some people with ASD may need constant support in their lives, whilst others may be completely independent.

Between the ages 2 and 3, indicators of autism usually emerge. Some development delays may surface even earlier, and people can be diagnosed as early as 1 and a half years old. As soon as dedicated schedules and activities are put in place, the more positive outcomes people with autism will have later in life.

Kid sick of autism

What is World Autism Day?

World Autism Awareness Day is an international celebration, honored yearly on the 2nd of April. Its purpose is to encourage the Member States of the United Nations to get involved in taking measures directed towards raising awareness about people with ASD.

It was designed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution "62/139. World Autism Awareness Day", passed on the 1st of November 2007, then adopted on the 18th of December 2007.

Every year, on the 2nd of April, organizations, volunteers and families of ASD patients gather to support research, aiding and awareness for this condition. Moreover, it is a tradition for landmarks, buildings, communities, and homes to “ Light It Up Blue”, in honor of people with ASD.

Throughout the entire month of April, it is encouraged to organize autism-friendly events, involving people with ASD and giving the opportunity to people that are less knowledgeable about the topic to get informed and invested.

Autism facts and history

What causes autism?

We don’t know precisely what causes autism, but researchers say that genetics is the main reason in the vast majority of cases. This is heavily influenced by the age of the parents: the older the parents, the higher the risk for the child to have autism.

Moreover, parents that have a child diagnosed with ASD have a 2% - 18% chance of having a second child with the same condition. When it comes to twins, as well, if one has autism, there is a 36% - 95% chance the other will have it as well.

Little boy with toy sitting on floor in living room.

Two decades of research have documented the link between autism and child vaccines – there is definitely no link between the two.

How common is autism?

In present times, it is determined that about 1 in 54 children is suffering from ASD: 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls. Most children are diagnosed too late – after age 4, although, autism can be diagnosed much earlier, as early as age 2.

31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to the above-average range (i.e., IQ >85).

Autism affects all socioeconomic groups and ethnicities in the same proportion. Early intervention gives the patients the best opportunities and benefits for their long-term development.

Challenges associated with autism

Approximately 33% of people with ASD are nonverbal. Nearly 50% of people with autism need to be looked after – they tend to wander or bolt from safety. Unfortunately, even with all the awareness and acceptance efforts, almost 66% of children with autism have been bullied (ages 6 to 15).

28% of 8-year-old with ASD present self-injurious behaviors: headbanging, skin scratching and arm biting being the most common. 90% of deaths of children with autism, ages 14 and younger who have wandered off are caused by drowning.

Adults with autism

Over 50% of young adults with ASD remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education. Out of the nearly 18,000 people with autism who used state-funded vocational rehabilitation programs in 2014, only 60% left the program with a job. Of these, 80 percent worked part-time at a median weekly rate of $160, putting them well below the poverty level.

Almost half of the 25-year-olds suffering from ASD have never had a paying job. That’s precisely why programs that hire and support autistic people are vital to communities – such activities offer autistic people more independence, financial stability and increase daily living skills.

Side profile of a sad young man with hands on face looking down. Depression and anxiety disorder

How can we promote autism awareness & help our community?

Learn about autism spectrum disorder

In order to spread awareness and become a contributing member of your community, you must thoroughly understand the disorder. There are many resources to choose from: books, studies, interviews, and documentaries.

It is important to note that autism symptoms vary from person to person: there is no one clearly defined selection of symptoms, behaviors, and needs. That’s why interacting with autistic people, in a safe and fun environment is your best bet to better understanding this topic.

Don’t be afraid to get involved

Most people with autism need constant care, attention, and involvement in activities designed for them – this way, they have the best chances of becoming more independent in their adult life, as much as their autism subtype will allow.

Even if you’re not specialized in treating or dealing with autism, don’t worry! There are many activities you can help with in your local community. Raising awareness, collecting funds or helping with the organization of events – your skills and talents are sure to be put to some good use if you want to get involved.

Search for your local autism organizations or charities and offer your support – they will be more than happy to meet up with you and work together in helping people with ASD.

Use your social media presence to spread the word

You don’t have to be an influencer or have thousands of followers on social media – even if a handful of people learn more about autism, it’s still a great improvement, compared to none.

Spread awareness about World Autism Day, about resources for families with autistic members and about the amazing stories that autistic people share from their lives.

Make sure you don’t spam your friends – different people have different affinities to social causes and we must respect that. Also, don’t forget that social media is just a small help – try to get involved as much offline as you are online!

Spend more time with people on the spectrum

As we’ve mentioned before, there is no better way to understand a cause than to spend time with the people involved in it. Choose to spend time with people on the spectrum, with their families, with the professionals that work with them on a daily basis.

This way, you will be able to truly understand the complexity of the disorder, to connect with them and to see how much things autistic people can do. You will gain a better understanding of the subject, feel more comfortable in promoting it and most importantly – make great friends along the way.

Donate

If you have the financial means to do so, donate to organizations and charities dedicated to people with autism. As we’ve previously mentioned, more than 50% of people with ASD need constant care, attention and looking after. This means that parents need to either hire someone or quit their jobs in order to take care of their autistic children – creating a financial strain for them.

Donating even a small amount can make a huge difference – your money will be used for educational purposes, for medical aid and for helping out families in need. If we all offer just a small contribution, the end result can make a massive difference.

Promote ability, not a disability

Our culture tends to focus on the things autistic people can’t do – some of them don’t talk, some of them wander off, some of them have repetitive behaviors that are hard to understand. However, autistic people have a lot of abilities as well – some of them are completely independent and lead normal lives.

Let’s flip the switch and focus on the bright side – on the people that have big hearts, are amazing to interact with and make great friends.

Support autism-friendly businesses

There are businesses all over the world that go the extra mile to support people suffering from autism. Some big retailers hire employees with ASD and provide the necessary training, support, and care needed for them to perform well at the job.

Other smaller businesses are created specifically to hire autistic people – giving them simple tasks that they can perform, offering customers the chance to interact with them and debunking the stigma surrounding this disability.

You can support these businesses by purchasing their products and services, helping them stay on the market and to keep offering people with autism amazing opportunities!

Wear blue on World Autism Awareness Day

Since this article is about World Autism Day and spreading awareness on this topic, choose to wear blue on the 2nd of April. This lets families with autistic members know you support them, you understand them and you care about them.

Moreover, it’s a great conversation starter to have with those who are less knowledgeable on this topic!

Photo credits: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz, Chernetskaya, Kiosea39, Juan Moyano.

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April 03, 2020

Winlip2

Lovely article, thank you for the information.

April 03, 2020

Sanjeevnanda6

I felt this article in my bones. Such succinct information, about a very sensitive topic. There has been awareness about Autism and the entire spectrum in general. The problem is that there are folks out there who consider this to be merely PC talk, and continue to hurl derogatory remarks over the entire community. Such action is truly detestable. Thank you for this article. Made me positive about the world in general right now. ~Sanjeev Nanda

April 02, 2020

Rbrucew

Very informative article. Autism is similar to schizophrenia in that it is a broad spectrum disorder. This makes it harder to understand, treat and manage. 

April 02, 2020

Williamwise1

Thank you for this nice and informative article. I'm glad we are encouraged to post more than just strictly photography related things here on the blog. Dreamstime is an excellent company and I'm honored to be a part. Thank you and stay safe. My wife's family still all lives in Brasov, so I know things are tough there as well during this time. God Bless, William 

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