On April 2nd, for the fourteenth year in a row, the colour blue is going to be flashing everywhere we look, because, guess what, it’s going to be World Autism Awareness Day!

World Autism Awareness Day was established by the United Nations as a day to raise awareness1 about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder throughout the world.

According to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “On World Autism Awareness Day, we speak out against discrimination, celebrate the diversity of our global community and strengthen our commitment2 to the full inclusion and participation of people with autism. Supporting them to achieve their full potential is a vital part of our efforts to uphold3 the core promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: to leave no one behind.”

According to autismspeaks.org, World Autism Awareness week is from 1st to 7th April, but Autism-friendly events and educational activities will usually be taking place all month, especially in the Member States of the United Nations, in order to increase understanding and acceptance, and foster4 worldwide support.

Hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world will be lighting blue in honour of people living with autism.

At this point, chances are, you might be asking, “what is autism in the first place?” Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complicated developmental disorder which includes a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills and interaction, communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. It can involve a wide range of symptoms and intensity; autistic people range from ones with mild symptoms, to those with disabilities needing full-time care in a special facility.

Parents typically notice the signs of autism spectrum disorder within the first three years of their child’s life, and sadly, autism is a lifelong condition. Early warning signs include problems with communication and social interaction; for example, no social smiling by six months, no babbling5, pointing, or meaningful gestures, poor eye contact and nonresponse to sounds, voices or their own name, no sharing of interests or showing items, etc. They often display repetitive behaviors like continually stacking6 items or lining up toys or other items.

Autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Risk factors for pregnant mothers include certain infections like rubella, alcohol, cocaine, pesticides, lead7, toxins including valproic acid8, air pollution, autoimmune diseases, etc. Autism affects the interaction of nerve cells and synapses, and subsequently information processing in the brain.

Living on the autistic spectrum can come with unique challenges for individuals, as well as their loved ones. These challenges can be minor or very major depending on how far along on the autistic spectrum the sufferers are.
Some autistic people may just have a hard time understanding instructions, and may need a bit more time to process information. Other autistic people may not be able to speak at all or even perform some basic self-care actions. They might have disabilities as a result of their disorder, and they will need full-time care for the rest of their lives.

According to the National Autism Association, the leader in autism safety information, Danish researchers found out in 2008 how high the mortality risk is among the autism population. In fact, twice as high as the general population!
Children with ASD seem to be prone to wandering9 and running away from safe environments, and accidental drownings10 accounted for 91 percent total U.S. deaths reported in children with an ASD ages 14 and younger.

Anxiety11 is a common part of growing up, but according to research and reviews, up to 84 percent of individuals with autism actually have it bad enough to be clinically diagnosed.
Dealing with change is also very challenging for autistic people, and especially autistic children. We all might dislike change in general, but it is especially difficult for them. They really prefer familiar environments and predictable12 routines due to how their brains work. Even small changes can cause them a lot of stress and anxiety.
Bullying is sadly something that a lot of autistic children have to face. They are especially vulnerable13 because of the nature of the disorder and because they find it difficult to process the world around us.

Be Patient when an autistic child does not smile back at you, or does not say thank you when you help him or her out. They are not being rude when they do not match your friendliness. They simply might be socially awkward14 and afraid of the new environment. A lot of patience and understanding is therefore needed.
Go beyond the blue15, offer practical help: It’s common in our society when raising awareness about a particular issue that we make a lot of noise on that day, and that’s where it ends. Let us not let it be the case this time. Let’s take the opportunity to help autistic people and various people with disabilities every day and not just in April.
Invite that autistic classmate out to sit with you at lunch. Invite him or her to your birthday party. Embrace16 them into your social circle.
Help out that single struggling mom with an autistic child. Offer to help with getting her groceries. Offer to push that wheelchair. Offer practical help.
Wearing blue to celebrate diversity, practical help is needed, and humanity is not as beautiful as we are when we seek to offer practical love and help to each other.

Happy World Autism Day!

Know anyone with autism or some sort of mental or physical activity? Brainstorm ways that you can offer practical help to make their lives easier and help them better contribute to the development of society and culture.
People with disabilities may struggle in some areas, but also have a lot to offer in other areas. Go ahead and include diversity in your friendships and social circles. You shall be pleasantly surprised!

Cara Siskova

Vocabulary: 1 povedomie, uvedomenie si – povědomí, uvědomění si; 2 záväzok, povinnosť – závazek, povinnost; 3 udržať – udržet; 4 podporovať – podporovat; 5 džavotanie – žvatlání; 6 zoraďovať – seřazovat; 7 olovo; 8 kyselina valproová; 9 byť náchylný na túlanie sa – být náchylný toulat se; 10 utopenie – utonutí; 11 strach, úzkosť, nekľud – strach, úzkost, neklid; 12 predvídateľný – předvídatelný; 13 zraniteľný – zranitelný; 14 neobratný, nemotorný, nešikovný; 15 urobte niečo navyše – udělejte něco navíc; 16 začleniť, zahrnúť – začlenit, zahrnout