Autism Awareness: Putting Children First

by Sarah Bailey, Inclusion Specialist

The scarf lies on top of my dresser all year long. Every so often, I pick it up, look at it, and lay it back down. The bright, primary colors dance around the well-known puzzle pieces.

The scarf reminds me of Margaret, the first child with autism that I worked with. I learned so much from that sweet girl and her therapist. They say that children teach us more than we ever teach them, and with Margaret, that was the truth. She taught me patience. She taught me how to follow-through. She taught me why inclusion is important and how it benefits everyone. My other students would fight over who got to work in a small group with Margaret each day. They learned empathy and compassion. She learned how to make friends. She learned how to ask to play. They helped her work on peer interaction, while they learned it themselves.

I wear the scarf every year as a reminder to me about the 1 in 68 children in the United States that have autism.  According to the TACA website, “More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined.”


The background of the puzzle piece goes back to 1963. A parent and board member of the National Autistic Society, Gerald Gasson, created the puzzle believing that people with autism suffered from a ‘puzzling’ condition. Each puzzle piece we see may be different in some way, just like each person with autism is different. It represents the diversity of each person with autism. While not everyone agrees, people have come to view the puzzle piece as a symbol for autism and autism awareness.


The language we use to describe people with special needs has really changed over the years. Back in the 1960s, when the puzzle piece was first introduced, people referred to those developmental disabilities as mentally handicapped. Society thought of children with autism as psychotic.  Doctors blamed autism on “refrigerator” parents, who seemed to lack parental warmth.

We now are beginning to understand the power of words. Person-First Language is about respect. We want to look first at the person, not his or her disability. We do not say “He is cancerous.” We say, “He HAS cancer.” It is about seeing the person before we see what condition he might have. Instead of saying, “Joe is autistic,” you can say, “Joe has autism.” It is something he has, not something he is. A person is not handicapped or disabled. She HAS a disability.


We commemorate Autism Awareness Month in April each year. 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Boys are diagnosed four times as often as girls.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder. Autism is a developmental disability, characterized by difficulties in communication, social interactions, and play skills. There is no cure for autism, but, through early intervention and treatment, one can improve or overcome the symptoms related to autism.


The Autism Puzzle Piece: A Symbol That’s Going To Stay Or Go?
Autism Society: National Autism Awareness Month
National Autism Association: Autism Facts
Talk About Curing Autism: Latest Autism Statistics

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