April is Autism Awareness Month: Teach your Children about Autism

A My Brother Charlie Book Cover

Did you know 1 in 68 American children is on the autism spectrum: a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years? (Source: Autism Speaks) With numbers this high, there is no doubt your son or daughter will encounter kids on the autism spectrum in school.

This year when my 1st grade daughter was Star of the Week, I decided to read the book, My Brother Charlie , written by the actress Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter Ryan Elizabeth Peete. I saw this as an opportunity to create awareness about autism for young elementary school kids. Why did Holly and her daughter  write this book? In their own words: “We offer this book as a gift to families struggling with autism and to those who have no autism in their immediate families but who have friends facing it. My Brother Charlie is a book about how special children are, and how every one of us can find value in the uniqueness of people.”

Before I started reading the book, I asked the children if they knew what autism was and I tried my best to explain it in simple words. I told them: “You can’t always tell if someone is autistic by looking at them. Children with autism usually don’t look any different than you and me so it may be hard for you to understand why they are acting in a certain way which you might think is “different”. Their brains process information differently and they may need extra help from teachers to learn and understand how to do things.” Some kids then asked questions and I clarified that everyone who is acting “differently” does not necessarily have autism. “The message is not to make fun of other kids because they are “different” and to be aware and accepting of how they are, get to know them and have patience. Everyone is special and unique just like all of you are.”

“Children are growing up in a world much more diverse than that of previous generations. If you model acceptance and understanding, not only will you raise kind, supportive individuals but they will be better prepared for their future in a world of uniquely able people.”(Source: Beyond Autism Awareness: Explaining Autism to Your Child by Jessica Watson)