“April is Autism Awareness month and it’s a great reminder to teach all of our students about empathy, understanding, and the differences within each of us,” says Sasha from The Autism Helper. The best way to do this, Sasha suggests, is to involve the entire school community. “Whether you’re a general education teacher, special education teacher, clinician, or support staff — help bring this valuable learning opportunity to your school! Currently, the rate of autism is 1 in every 68 children. All of our students will have experiences with individuals with autism at some point in their lives. As educators, we need to make sure our students are prepared to act with compassion and embrace these members of our community.”
Sasha and a group of other Special Education teachers on TpT recently took a moment to share how they help spread autism awareness in their schools. “Sharing resources and ideas is the best way to encourage discussions and learning in each classroom, says Sasha. “I photocopy a list of age-appropriate facts, discussion questions, and resources and put one in each teacher’s mailbox. We also set up interactive bulletin boards throughout the school with different facts about autism to get students thinking and learning!” Read on for other amazing ideas to incorporate into your classroom or your entire school.
Educators Raising Awareness
“In past years, I’ve gotten together a collection of children’s books about autism and have had a sign-up sheet where teachers in our school could sign up for a day and time for me to come into their classroom, read a story, and answer any questions about autism. Some of these books include In Jesse’s Shoes by Beverly Lewis, My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, Looking After Louis by Lesley Ely, and Ian’s Walk: A Story About Autism by Laurie Lears.” – Kayla from My Special Learners
“Every year, we raise the flag at our school for autism Awareness. autism Ontario runs this in Canada, and we have a flag from them. The entire school goes outside for this, and someone makes a short speech explaining why we do this. Prior to April 2nd, I give all the teachers in the school resources from autism Speaks so they can do a lesson about autism with their students. If they prefer, I offer for their class to come into my room and we watch a video from autism Ontario made by students about a girl with autism. They explain what autism is and how to be a friend to someone with autism. After that, I explain a bit more about autism and answer questions. I invite them to look around my classroom and we discuss the differences between my classroom and theirs and explain PECS, visual supports, etc. and why my students need them. This has been very successful, and I recruit our peer buddies this way.” – Nicole from Adventures in the ATC
“In our school, we’ve had all the grades wear the same color shirts: K-1 wear red, grades 2-3 wear blue, grades 4-5 wear yellow. We show how everyone fits together, and the teachers wear a puzzle piece to show that we fit together. The children also see a puppet performance about being different but still fitting in.” – Viki Santos from Special Teacher for Special Kids
“My entire school wears blue. I keep a library of books about children with disabilities in my classroom for teachers to sign out, and every student gets a puzzle piece to decorate. This opens up discussion for all types of inclusion, and we decorate our halls with them.” – Alyssa from Simply Special Ed
“We had a schoolwide empathy day one year. It was fantastic! We had different stations all around that showed different perspectives, like getting to class in a wheelchair, what a therapy dog does, etc. We had fabulous administrative support so it was schoolwide. We also had all the kids sign a pledge to end the use of the ‘r’ word. – Nikki from Creative Inclusion
“I’ve designed shirts for students and staff to purchase for autism awareness. We also have a book (My Brother Charlie) that we’ll read to the classrooms!” – Julie from Superheroes In SPED
“Every year we would hold an autism awareness parade, where each class would make a banner. We would hang up signs around the neighborhood advertising our parade. We’d march around the block holding our banners. They would always hold a carnival in the parking lot for the students after our parade was over.”- Liz from The Autism Vault
“Our school has participated in many activities to recognize Autism Awareness Month. We always like to change it up from year to year, not only to keep the students in our school interested, but so that they can learn something new about their friends with autism. We’ve collected $1.00 for puzzle pieces made out of construction paper for the kids to write or draw what autism means to them. We donate all of the money collected. We’ve had all of the classrooms decorate their doors, given ‘kid pieces of love’ to students in K-2 to ‘assemble’ a friend with autism. This is to show that a friend with autism can look like you or me. For grades 3-5, we’re doing ‘101 Question Cards for autism.’ With a very supportive and enthusiastic team, we try to make Autism Awareness Month special for our kids.” – Debbie from Autism Educators
“We have an awesome PE program at my school where kids throughout the school apply to become tutors during the Special Ed PE class. Because of the relationships formed during this class, when walking through the hallway or during lunch my students frequently have students who stop to say hi or have conversations with them in the hallway. The tutors also sell autism awareness t-shirts and ribbons to support autism awareness during the month of April! I love the sense of community the PE tutor program brings to our school and my students.” – Brie from Breezy Special Ed
Thank you for these wonderful suggestions. And thank you for the wonderful steps you take each and every day to ensure all of your students feel safe, welcome, appreciated, and understood.