April 2 is World Autism Acceptance Day and is only one of four official health-specific days the UN has. #WorldAutismAwarenessDay Watch video
By Nancy Silberkleit
If we were all the same, the world would be a very boring place so not only diversity is a great thing, it is something that should be celebrated and rejoiced.
But nothing stands out more to a young child than someone else who is different. Their heightened observational skills translate to them being attuned to recognizing differences. If they have someone in their class who is autistic and they aren’t told of this fact nor have any knowledge or understanding of what autism is, they won’t know what to make of their classmate. Children are very accepting of others, but it’s education and information that is always paramount in helping make sense of the world and the fact that while not everyone is like me we are all people.
April is Autism Awareness month — autistic people can have different reactions to sensations whether they be touch, sounds or lights. Imagine if there is an episode where an autistic child is set off to due being touched and the children in the class know nothing about autism — their ignorance means they won’t know what to make of it. (New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the country.)
This is why it’s so critical to increase autism awareness and be as transparent as possible, especially at schools where there are so many children who are different. School is a long-term social environment and the social relationships classmates form can last a lifetime. Making a friend and feeling that wonderful feeling of inclusion is something that can be a challenge for many and an even bigger one for a person who is on the spectrum.
Autism is on the spectrum and now the new term trending for it is neurodiversity. Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyscalculia, autism spectrum, Tourette syndrome, and others.
All of this means is that a person functions in a different way and this is what has to be explained to children. Autistic characters are being more embraced in popular culture and for a young child to see a TV show where there is an autistic character can help them greatly in understanding what autism is.
Given this and the powerful medium that graphic literacy is, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce a character who is on the spectrum to Riverdale, in the Archie Comics universe. Her name is Scarlet and she is highly skilled at building things.
She attends Riverdale High and has a hard time expressing friendship or the fact that she likes to be included. This is a reality with many kids who are neuro diverse, they desire wanting to be included but this skill does not come easy and many times they do not know how to go about this. They have a hard time expressing their thoughts and feelings and having their voice heard.
By introducing Scarlet, I want to help both students and teachers have an opportunity to not only to bring up the topics of kindness and inclusion but to acknowledge diverse intelligences, talents, skills, interests and backgrounds. Utlizing the panels of a comic book to spark conversation not only on autism, but to all on the spectrum on what it means for this child and their place in the school community.
The comic story “Kindness Works,” further allows the conversation to talk about one’s abilities and individual accomplishments. Individuals certainly can’t be good at everything and here Scarlet has an interest that’s in an area that was once dominated by men. Transmitting information and knowledge through the reading of graphic literacy will assist students in learning more about the types of behaviors they will see and what the differences are.
There are two massive benefits from this — with awareness there will be more inclusion. Now a student understands why and how their fellow classmate reacts differently they will make more of an effort to include them but more importantly, this can significantly reduce the amount of bullying an autistic student receives.
This is due to most bullying coming as a result of ignorance to which the solution is awareness. The ideal would be if students protected and defended their autistic classmate.
In 2007 the United Nations passed a resolution to make April 2 World Autism Acceptance Day and is only one of four official health-specific days the UN has. If you want to be involved with raising awareness, it just doesn’t have to be done today — there are a wide ranging number of events that happen the whole year round.
With awareness can come acceptance and with that can come friendship, inclusion and kindness. With this, it won’t just be our schools that are a better place but our world.
Nancy Silberkleit, a former public school educator in New Jersey, is the Co-CEO of Archie Comics and the founder of the Rise Above Social Issues Foundation.
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