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Celebrating Autism Awareness Month with Books

3 silhouettes of children playing in front of a colorful block of puzzle pieces with the title Celebrating Autism Awareness Month with Books on www.noveldesignsco.com

April is Autism Awareness Month. While some people may feel that Autism Spectrum Disorder is a "new" thing, Autism Awareness Month actually originated in the 1970's as a grassroots effort by parents, advocates, and professionals to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The concept gained momentum in the United States and was officially recognized by the Autism Society of America in the 1990's. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day, further bolstering the global recognition of autism awareness efforts. Today, Autism Awareness Month serves as a platform to promote understanding, acceptance, and support for individuals with autism and their families worldwide.


infographic about Autism Spectrum Disorder, showing rates, gender differences, skills loss, and early intervention.

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. As a spectrum disorder, symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary greatly from person to person. Individuals with ASD may also have unique strengths and differences in sensory perception, attention, and learning. While most people would be familiar with the savant ASD portrayed in the movie Rain Man, this is not a good example of the majority of people diagnosed with ASD. People with ASD can struggle with understanding social cues, facial expressions, sarcasm, and sometimes even jokes. They can be sensitive to external stimuli, such as loud noises, the feel of certain fabrics, or being touched by another person. People on the spectrum will often develop hyper-focused interests on a narrow subject. In my 15 years of experience in social work, I've worked with children and adults on the spectrum who's hyper-focus interest ranged from trains to Disney Land and they could answer almost any question you could think of about their area of hyper-focus.



As stated above, some people believe that ASD is a "new" issue. I've heard people proclaim, "Back in my day we didn't have all this autism stuff!" And they're right - data shows that ASD diagnosis rates have tripled over the last 20-ish years or so. But there are several factors leading to this outcome, none of which being that ASD is not real or is over-diagnosed.

  1. Environmental and genetic factors: While the exact causes of autism remain unclear, researchers believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Changes in environmental factors, such as increased exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants, may contribute to the rise in autism diagnoses over time.

  2. Changes in diagnostic criteria: The diagnostic criteria for autism have evolved over time. The broadening of the criteria and the inclusion of milder forms of ASD, such as Asperger’s syndrome, have contributed to an increase in the number of individuals diagnosed with autism.

  3. Improved screening and assessment tools: Advances in screening and assessment tools have made it easier to identify autism in individuals, even at a young age. Early detection and intervention can lead to better outcomes for individuals with autism, prompting more diagnoses.

  4. Increased awareness and understanding: Over the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among healthcare professionals, educators, and the general public. This heightened awareness has led to more accurate identification and diagnosis of individuals with autism.

  5. Reduced stigma: There has been a gradual reduction in the stigma associated with autism, encouraging individuals and families to seek evaluation and support. As stigma decreases, more people feel comfortable disclosing their autism diagnosis, leading to an apparent increase in cases.

All of these factors contribute to the increased diagnosis rate, including many people receiving a diagnosis well into adulthood.



As always, I love connecting awareness, inclusion, and society with literature. Delving into books about autistic individuals serves as a straightforward yet impactful method to cultivate perspective and understanding. These narratives offer intimate glimpses into the diverse experiences of those on the autism spectrum, allowing readers to empathize with their joys, struggles, and unique perspectives. By immersing oneself in these stories, readers can gain valuable insights into the complexities of autism spectrum disorder, fostering greater empathy and acceptance. Through literature, we can bridge the gap between misunderstanding and appreciation, ultimately fostering a more inclusive society where individuals of all neurodiversities are celebrated and supported. To help you with your personal reading and friend/family recommendations, I've compiled a short list of books for adults and children that can help us in celebrating Autism Awareness Month.


Adults

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a novel written by Mark Haddon. It follows the story of Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who sets out to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. The novel is narrated from Christopher’s perspective, providing insight into his unique way of thinking and perceiving the world. As Christopher unravels the mystery, he encounters various challenges and learns important lessons about himself and the people around him. The book explores themes of truth, trust, and the complexities of human relationships through the lens of a protagonist with ASD.


“Daniel Isn’t Talking” is a novel by Marti Leimbach. It tells the story of Melanie Marsh, a mother who discovers that her two-year-old son, Daniel, has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The novel follows Melanie’s journey as she navigates the challenges of raising a child with autism, including dealing with societal misconceptions, seeking appropriate therapy and support, and coping with her own emotions. As Melanie strives to connect with her son and help him overcome his communication difficulties, she also grapples with her strained marriage and the impact of Daniel’s diagnosis on her family dynamics. The book offers a poignant portrayal of the complexities of autism and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


"But You Don't Look Autistic At All" offers an insightful exploration into the lived experience of autism through the lens of a personal memoir. The book delves into the author's journey of self-discovery, navigating the complexities of societal perceptions and misconceptions surrounding autism. It provides a candid and heartfelt account of the challenges and triumphs faced by individuals on the autism spectrum, challenging stereotypes and advocating for greater understanding and acceptance. Through poignant anecdotes and reflections, the author sheds light on the diverse spectrum of autism and emphasizes the importance of embracing neurodiversity in our communities.


“Colin Fischer” is a novel by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz. It follows the story of Colin Fischer, a high school student with Asperger’s syndrome, as he investigates a mysterious event at his school involving a gun. Colin’s unique perspective and keen observational skills lead him to uncover surprising truths about his classmates and himself. The novel explores themes of friendship, acceptance, and the power of individuality, offering a heartfelt portrayal of a young man navigating the complexities of adolescence and autism spectrum disorder.


“House Rules” is a novel by Jodi Picoult. It tells the story of Jacob Hunt, a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome who becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. As the story unfolds, Jacob’s mother, Emma, must navigate the legal system and confront her own doubts and fears about her son’s innocence. The novel explores themes of family dynamics, love, sacrifice, and the challenges faced by individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families. Through multiple perspectives, including Jacob’s own, “House Rules” offers a thought-provoking exploration of justice, understanding, and the complexities of human relationships.



Young Readers

“My Brother Charlie” is a children’s book by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete. It is narrated by a young girl named Callie, who shares her experiences of growing up with her twin brother, Charlie, who has autism. Callie describes the unique bond she shares with Charlie, as well as the challenges and joys of having a sibling with autism. The book celebrates the strengths and talents of individuals with autism while also highlighting the importance of understanding, acceptance, and love within families. Through Callie’s perspective, “My Brother Charlie” offers a heartfelt and positive portrayal of the sibling relationship and the journey of living with autism.


“Since We’re Friends” is a children’s book by Celeste Shally. It tells the story of Matt and Sam, two friends who navigate the challenges and joys of their friendship. Sam, who has autism, faces difficulties with social interactions and communication, but Matt is always there to support him. The book celebrates the unconditional acceptance and understanding between the two friends, emphasizing the importance of empathy, inclusion, and kindness. Through simple and engaging storytelling, “Since We’re Friends” promotes friendship and acceptance of differences, teaching children valuable lessons about compassion and friendship.


“All My Stripes” is a children’s book by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer. It follows the story of Zane, a young zebra with autism. Zane feels different from his peers because of his autism, but with the help of his supportive mother, he learns to embrace his unique strengths and talents. The book emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance, understanding, and celebrating diversity. Through Zane’s journey, “All My Stripes” encourages children to embrace their differences and recognize the value of inclusivity and empathy.


“A Kind of Spark” is a middle-grade novel by Elle McNicoll. It follows the story of Addie, an autistic girl who becomes passionate about uncovering the history of witch trials in her small Scottish town. As Addie immerses herself in her research, she also advocates for a memorial to honor the women who were unjustly accused and executed during the witch hunts. Along the way, Addie faces challenges and prejudice from those around her but finds strength in her determination and sense of justice. The novel explores themes of identity, belonging, activism, and the power of finding one’s voice.


“Anything but Typical” is a young adult novel by Nora Raleigh Baskin. It tells the story of Jason Blake, a 12-year-old boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Jason is a talented writer who finds solace in his online writing community, where he can express himself freely without judgment. However, Jason struggles with social interactions and sensory sensitivities in the real world. When he meets a girl named Rebecca at a writing convention, Jason navigates the complexities of friendship and first love while grappling with his own insecurities and the challenges of living with autism. The novel offers a candid portrayal of autism, friendship, and the power of self-expression.



If you or someone you know are navigating an ASD diagnosis, the following may be good resources to help with that process:

  • Autism Society of America (ASA): The ASA provides advocacy, support, and information for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. They offer resources, educational materials, and local chapters across the United States.

  • Autism Speaks: Autism Speaks is a leading autism advocacy organization that funds research, raises awareness, and provides support for individuals with ASD and their families. They offer toolkits, resources, and information on autism-related topics.

  • National Autism Association (NAA): The NAA provides support, education, and advocacy for individuals with autism and their families. They offer resources, safety tools, and support programs for individuals with autism and their caregivers.

  • Autism Research Institute (ARI): ARI focuses on research and treatment options for autism spectrum disorders. They provide information on biomedical interventions, educational resources, and support for individuals with autism and their families.

  • The Global Autism Project: This organization works to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism worldwide by providing training, support, and resources to autism centers and organizations in underserved communities.

  • World Autism Organization (WAO): The WAO is a global network of autism organizations that collaborate to raise awareness, promote acceptance, and support individuals with autism and their families worldwide.

  • Asperger/Autism Network (AANE): AANE provides information, support, and resources specifically for individuals with Asperger’s syndrome and related autism spectrum profiles, as well as their families and professionals.

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