Autism is a term used to describe a group of developmental disorders associated with brain development. The cause of autism is not known. It can manifest differently in each child. Therefore, each child should be treated as an individual just as his typically developing peers are treated as individuals. People diagnosed with autism have similar needs, and awareness programs focus on helping people to understand these needs.
Tell members of the training group to mingle around the room for 20 minutes. If you have a large group, ask for six or more volunteers. Once selected, tell these volunteers to mingle around the room without speaking. They cannot use their voices for anything. They can only use body language or other techniques to gain attention. They will not be allowed to reach for anything on their own. They must tell someone else when they need something.
When 20 minutes is up, the volunteers will tell about their experiences. They will discuss the frustration of needing something but a helpful person may have handed them something different. They may have also experienced people ignoring them because they did not want to be bothered or felt uncomfortable trying to determine what the communication attempts really meant.
No one should be scolded for their actions during this exercise. The information should be expanded on to relate it to the frustration that many people with autism feel when their communication attempts go unnoticed or misinterpreted. The exercise will make people aware of the need to provide consistent communication options to people with autism.
Your awareness training should discuss the educational rights of people with autism. The federal Individual with Disabilities Act specifically names autism as a qualifying condition. This allows schools to receive extra funding from the federal government to provide specialized instruction to a person with autism until the age of 21 years. The instruction can be provided in the general education classroom and includes such things as paraprofessional support, assistive technology, alternate format lessons or other needs identified in the child's individualized education plan.
The individualized education plan will be developed with the help of the child with autism, their parents, teachers and therapists.
Awareness training should also provide participants guidance to securing community access to their loved one with autism. Teach the awareness participants how to contact government officials to address their needs for access to buildings, support while inside the building and public transportation.
Jennifer Terry is program director for TriCounty Agency for Intellectual Disabilities. As a University of Alabama graduate, she holds a Masters in rehabilitation counseling and a Bachelor in psychology with an emphasis in child development. She also earned an Associate in business management and second Associate in computer information systems from Bevill State Community College. She holds a grant writing certificate from North Georgia College and State University.