The public has come to know April as Autism Awareness month and April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. This is a time when the world recognizes and celebrates the rights of individuals with autism.
With the support of the Autism community, this year, a change has taken place. Autism Awareness month has shifted to Autism Acceptance month. The many autism community advocates and organizations across the United States, which provide resources to families and have been advocating for acceptance, hope this shift in name will make a bigger impact in the eyes of the public. This is a huge deal to the 1 in every 54 Americans currently living with autism.
Most of us have heard of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), however very few fully understand everything that goes along with that diagnosis. Even being a mom to a son with autism, I am by no means an expert on this topic. There is a saying in the autism community, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
The reason this saying resonates, is because autism is a spectrum disorder. For instance, my son does fairly well in school academically and is able to communicate verbally, however he struggles to regulate his emotions and interpret social cues. For him, those struggles lead to behavior issues and trouble interacting with others. While some can communicate verbally, some children with autism may also have intellectual disabilities, developmental speech delays, or the inability to express their needs, which could require more support in school and at home. Sometimes these differences cause children on the spectrum to feel isolated and disconnected.
Troop Leaders can help girls with autism spectrum disorder by providing an accepting and safe environment to learn & practice important social and life skills. Girl Scouts is for everyone and all girls can benefit from the sisterhood. If you have the opportunity to include girls with ASD, I have included some suggestions to make the transition easier for everyone involved.
One Troop Leader in Atlanta suggests, just as you would do with any other troop, don’t be afraid to tell parents that you need help – they’ll pitch in, especially when they see the effort you’re making to include their girls. This is a great way to ensure troop success. For instance, when parents or caregivers are participating at the meetings, they will know if their daughter had a bad day or if she has fears or issues about certain things and will be there to provide extra support, allowing the Troop Leader to assist the other girls in the troop.
Another suggestion is to have a discussion with the girls not on the spectrum about being differently abled, as this will help create the accepting and safe environment for the girl(s) on the spectrum. It can be as simple as letting them know someone with autism is joining their troop and asking them if they know what autism is or if they know someone who has autism. Also, knowing in advance some characteristics of autism, such as, doesn’t talk much, is scared of sudden loud sounds, or doesn’t look people in the eyes when speaking, can help to lessen overwhelming amount of questions at the first meeting.
A few things to keep in mind when including girls with ASD:
– Establish a routine. Children with autism are especially responsive when there is a clear structure and routine.
– Use many visuals. Using visual charts, checklists, illustrations, and videos can all help with expectation and communication.
– Support during transition. Changing routines or even unstructured time, such as moving from one space or activity to another can be tough for kids with ASD.
Below I have listed the website and article used for this blog, as well as, additional websites troop leaders can find more information about autism:
Autism Society – https://www.autism-society.org/
ASERT – https://paautism.org/
The Tommy Foundation – https://www.tommyland.org/
Written by Debbie Ramsey-Golden