October a chance to learn about autism

October is Autism Awareness Month-a time for Canadians to learn more about the social effects the wide spectrum of the disorder can bring.

At its last council meeting, Greater Napanee joined several communities across Canada by pledging to ‘light it up blue’ as a show of support. That means blue lights, the international symbol for autism awareness, will be found sprinkled throughout the town from now until Halloween.

According to AutismEdmonton.org, current figures indicate one in every 68 eight-year-old child identifies as having an autism spectrum disorder. Here in Lennox and Addington County, a Facebook group for families has well over 100 members. The Lennox and Addington County Autism Network is less than six months old, but it continues to grow and gives a general idea of just how many people in this county are affected in one way or another.

Chances are everyone in this community at least knows one person with autism.

For that reason, it’s important for communities to show their support in any way they can, both for those living with autism and their families. Organizations like Greater Napanee Gymnastics Club are already ahead of the curve, offering classes for kids with autism, practicing and interacting among kids who don’t have it. For the kids with autism, it’s a chance to feel included and be a part of the community, a break for the norm of often being shuffled to the sidelines and made to feel as though they’re in the way. For the rest of the group it’s a great chance to see though the kids may have different needs, they’re not so different than they are. They too just want to have fun and a chance to be kids.

Autism Awareness Month serves as a good reminder for everybody to try and put themselves in the shoes of parents or guardians of kids with autism. Instead of offering snide remarks to parents as they attempt to comfort a loud child in public, try words of encouragement or understanding. Maybe a loud noise or bright colours were just too much on that day and it’s not a case of bad parenting. It’s that fear of condemnation from other people that often lead families to feeling isolated and unwelcome in stores and shops.

There’s been some progress made in recent years as people have become more aware of what symptoms can go along with the disorder. Stores have taken to establishing ‘sensory friendly’ shopping hours, with reduced lighting and noises. Movie theatres offer special programs that cater to those with different needs. A little understanding can make a huge difference.

This month and beyond is a great reminder of how a little empathy and understanding can go a long way.

-Adam Prudhomme

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