April has been heralded as Autism Awareness month since its inception back in the early 1970’s. Nearly 50 years later, some think it’s time for a change. Among them is Jeanne Beard, Founder of the National Autism Academy and an expert on parenting children with autism.
Jeanne Beard believes that society needs to move past Autism Awareness for there to be the kind of positive change that people with autism and their families deserve. She advocates for more appreciation – meaning a full understanding – of what individuals with autism and their family members experience. And she forecasts that this shift towards Autism Appreciation will take a more prominent place by the end of 2021.
“It’s been fifty years,” said Ms. Beard. “And we are starting to see a need and a demand to move past basic awareness into a deeper understanding of what people with autism and their families experience. While some progress over the past five decades has been made, there still is little room for neuro-diversity.”
Jeanne Beard isn’t the only one recognizing that there needs to be a change away from simple awareness. This year, the Autism Society of America, one of the oldest autism groups around, used social media to try to shift the focus for April from awareness to acceptance. Yet another autism advocacy group, the Autistic Self Advocacy Group, has been calling for a change since 2011.
But both the Autism Society of America and the Autistic Self Advocacy Group stopped at calling for a shift past awareness to acceptance. And Jeanne Beard believes stopping at acceptance is stopping too soon.
“As parents looking to give our children a positive future, we have to prepare our kids not only to be independent but also to navigate a world that has a long way to go to understand how their brains operate.” she said. And too few parents are taught how to do either part of that. To Jeanne Beard, that’s a problem.
That’s because Jeanne Beard isn’t familiar with what it takes to prepare a child with autism to be more independent only as the founder of the National Autism Academy or as an expert on the impact of autism on the family. She’s also a parent of two sons with autism.
Her personal experience led her to start the National Autism Academy. The website is https://nationalautismacademy.com. Through her work, she has interviewed hundreds of parents, teachers and health care professionals. She knows what works and what doesn’t. From those interviews, hours of research and her own experience, she has developed online trainings, workshops and programs to better equip those who help people with autism live a more positive, independent, fulfilling life.
Ms. Beard believes a change towards Autism Appreciation is not only needed but imminent given the growing number of people with autism. Just last year, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) disclosed that 1 in 54 children under the age of 8 were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum in the United States based on data from 2016. That’s about a 10% increase in just two years.
But the number doesn’t include children who are diagnosed later or are undiagnosed. It also doesn’t include adults. And based on the data, the CDC revealed last year that there are approximately 5,437,988 adults with autism in the US.
“We have a growing population with autism. And the call for more autism appreciation – or understanding – is rising. By the end of 2021, it will be an important focus.” she shared. Looking at the growing number of Ted talks on autism, characters on television depicted with autism and the presence of the Netflix program, Atypical, it’s clear that a bigger conversation is picking up steam.
But Jeanne Beard is not looking to just change the words used each April. “Right now the world pays attention to autism one month a year,” she said. ‘But for the child and their family, it’s something that’s with them for life. That’s why Autism Appreciation is a shift that families need now.”
That’s just one of the reasons why Jeanne Beard and the National Autism Academy have been developing new programs to show parents, teachers, counselors and others how to help the child with autism get ready for what happens when they age out of school. It, like Autism Appreciation, simply can’t wait.
Jeanne Beard can be reached at Jeanne (at) nationalautismacademy (dot) com