Celebrating Neurodiversity: It’s Autism Acceptance Month!

By Kimberly “Kiki” Almonte

It’s April, and that means it’s Autism Acceptance Month! This is a time to celebrate the incredible diversity of the autistic community and raise awareness about the realities of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

As a team member of the Collaborative for Inclusive Education, autism awareness and acceptance holds professional significance to me, but I also have a special, personal connection to this topic, as well. Despite the signs being quite evident in hindsight, when I was a student, I wasn’t diagnosed with autism due to being a quiet, well-behaved female who excelled academically. This, coupled with the presence of ADHD, further complicated the picture, and the years of misunderstanding and confusion significantly impacted my life. I believe in the philosophy of becoming the adult you needed as a child. That’s why I’m passionate about advocating for autistic students who might go undiagnosed or misunderstood. I want them to receive the support they deserve, just like every other child in the classroom. After all, isn’t that why most of us enter the field of education? We have a love for learning, care deeply about our students, and want them to flourish not just academically but throughout their lives.

While you might think autism is relatively rare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, as of 2023, that 1 in 36 children in the US are diagnosed with ASD. A different 2023 study in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area found that 1 in 4 16-year-old students met the criteria for undiagnosed autism. However, it’s important to note that this number likely underestimates the true prevalence.

Here’s why:

So, what does this mean for educators?

Since research suggests the prevalence of autism is higher than you might think, even if you don’t currently have a student with a formal autism diagnosis, there’s a good chance you have autistic students in your class.

Empower Yourself and Your Students:

Remember that ASD is a wide spectrum. Autistic folks are individuals, not a monolith. Think of the autism spectrum not as a straight line, but as a vast circle with countless variations. By becoming more knowledgeable about autism spectrum disorder, not only can you better support both diagnosed and undiagnosed autistic students in your classroom, but, exactly because that spectrum is so varied, you will also gain valuable tools to understand and support a wider range of learners and create a more inclusive environment that benefits all students.

Understanding is Key. Autism is a part of the rich tapestry of human diversity. Just as you would strive to learn about different cultures, take this opportunity to educate yourself about autism and understand how it can shape an individual’s experience. This knowledge will empower you to better support all your students.

We’ll help you kick off this learning journey. Check out our comprehensive Resource Corner Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder and explore the variety of resources we’ve compiled regarding ASD, from information to help you better understand what it is to resources you can use in the classroom with your students.

By becoming more informed, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone. And by recognizing and celebrating neurodiversity, we create richer learning environments for all students.