“Autism isn’t a look. You cannot LOOK autistic, just like you cannot look like a person with diabetes. Invisible challenges do not equal invalid challenges. Autism is part of who I am, and when I hear, ‘You don’t look autistic’ you are discrediting all of the hard work I’ve put in to be where I am today.” – Sarah Rae
The month of April has been given the title of Autism Awareness Month in an effort to increase the understanding, inclusion and acceptance of individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. Individuals who experience Autism often do so in a range of conditions, since Autism is a spectrum disorder. While individuals with ASD may share certain difficulties, their conditions will impact them in different ways and can vary from mild to severe.
According to a 2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 54 children in the United States have an autism diagnosis. Autism was four times more prevalent among boys than among girls as of 2016 in the United States. When looking at the worldwide statistics, 1 in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is not a learning disability, but it can have an effect on an individual’s cognitive functioning, which sometimes leads to delays in speech and learning. There is no cure or medication that can be taken for ASD, however the vast majority of children with autism experience at least one other co-occurring condition. These co-occurring conditions are often treatable and can include, ADD, ADHD, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, seizures, intellectual disabilities and gastrointestinal problems. Behavioral therapy is the most effective course of action for children to help manage the effects of ASD and while it is a lifelong condition, many children with the diagnosis go on to live productive, independent and fulfilling lives.
Here at the Pratyush Sinha Foundation our core belief is that every child has the potential to become a healthy, happy and conscious citizen of the world. We believe this can happen when an alchemy of mindful classrooms, schools, homes, and communities creates the environment that fosters psycho-social-emotional health of all. When children of all abilities are given the tools to be mindful in their everyday life situations, they cultivate self-awareness, develop empathy and gain a sense of empowerment over their own choices. The mindful breathing techniques allow children the space needed to process, self-regulate and make positive choices. We, at PSF, have incorporated these tools and techniques into a unique curriculum called SEND- Special Education Needs and Disabilities curriculum, which recognizes each child’s needs but also celebrates that mindfulness is for EVERY body. In our current world, with all the demands on our youth, there is no better time to teach skills that will foster these attributes and create a culture of inclusion.
Inclusion has been a heavy buzz word over the past few years, particularly in the field of education. Simply stated inclusion is an educational practice meant to broaden the opportunities for children with disabilities and marginalized groups. Its aim is to have all students realize their full potential and pursue the right to be incorporated into the fabric of society. Mindfulness also fosters this belief. When we are taught how to sit still in our mindful bodies, we are able to be aware of how we are feeling. When we are taught how to be aware of our surroundings, we are able to notice those around us. When we are taught how to take deep breaths, we are able to calm ourselves and our nervous systems. All of these abilities allow us the time and space needed to make good choices. To be inclusive.
“The world needs different kinds of minds to work together.” Dr. Temple Grandin
We are able to include our own thoughts and feelings into our actions. We are able to interpret the feelings of others, even without words, by being aware of body language and facial expressions. We are able to make connections and build relationships. We are more aware of how our choices affect others. Children, of all abilities, are eager to share. It is why show and tell has stood the test of time. They are particularly eager to share things that are helpful to them, that make them feel empowered. It is not uncommon for the children who are given these tools to teach them to others, to be inclusive without ever knowing the definition of the word.
There are so many reasons to embrace diverse abilities. Recognizing and respecting ways of being and doing that are not our own expands our knowledge. Embracing the uniqueness of every individual and their specific needs allows us to build bridges of trust and understanding that inspire greatness. That greatness transcends all diagnosis, disabilities and delays because it celebrates humanity. Common humanity is the root of inclusion. With a few weeks left in the month of April, take the time to be mindful. Be aware. Notice the differences in those around you and celebrate them.
“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” – Audre Lorde