The month of April is Autism Awareness/Acceptance month. In most of our worlds, every day is Autism Acceptance, however April gives us an excuse to educate and inform others how amazing our students are. I am a firm believer that we should talk about our differences and celebrate them. Elementary aged students are curious and very capable of acceptance. It is our job to provide the tools and set them up for their kindness journey!
1. Provide Resources to General Education Teachers
In the past, I have used this time to pop into grade level classrooms and talk about Autism. This year is a little more unique (shoutout shortages), so I decided to provide resources to my fellow teachers. I sent a quick email with suggestions on how they can talk about Autism to their students. This included both book and video recommendations. We also provided each classroom teacher with a plain puzzle piece for their students to decorate with what they find to be special about their peers. Here are some of the resources I recommended (If you don’t have a book on hand, check Youtube for a read aloud!).
2. Spirit Week
We all know how much elementary schools love their spirit weeks. Nothing like participating in “mis-match day” and then having to go to the grocery store looking like a dang fool. The things we do as educators, anything to get our students excited. By choosing fun spirit days that celebrate our differences, we create opportunities to talk about how being different can be our superpower. Nothing sparks quality conversations like dressing in theme! Here are a few fun spirit days that celebrate inclusion.
“Wear Your Passion” – We all have special interests
“Favorite Colors” – Together we make a beautiful, colorful puzzle
“Comfy Clothes” – Understanding sensory needs
“Favorite Team” – Together we make an amazing team
“Crazy Hair/Socks” – We were born to be different and stand out
3. Hands on Activities
Being that elementary schools teach students ages 5 through 12, there is a lot of room for differentiated activities. For the sake of time and not being able to plan different activities for six grade levels, I kept it simple. This year we went with paper puzzle pieces and asked that students decorate their piece of the puzzle. I told teachers to prompt their students to simply draw, define kindness, or share something they love about their peers. I totally understand that Autism is much more than a puzzle piece, however I believe that it does a stellar job of explaining to younger students just how unique each of their peers on the spectrum are. As they say, if you know one person with Autism, you know one person with Autism. I also like being able to add the perspective that they can be a piece to the puzzle too.
Celebrating Autism and neurodiversity is something that should obviously take place more than a single day per year. As educators, parents, advocates, etc., I am sure that you can relate when I say that I am hyping my students up at all times. They are resilient, unique, brilliant, and they teach me new things every single day. Take this “national holiday” as an opportunity to ensure that every single staff member and student in your building knows just how special Autism is. It is time for us to not just accept and create awareness, but to adapt to those who experience the world a little differently than we do. It’s 2022 people, let’s shape up!