Many people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face prejudices due to a lack of awareness and understanding of what it means to be autistic. People still see autism as a “disease” when, in fact, people on the spectrum can live happy, healthy, and productive lives. Fortunately, by increasing awareness and acceptance of ASD, students can receive the education and support they need to thrive.

ASD is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 54 Americans from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds live with ASD. 

People often describe ASD in terms of deficits by focusing on communication and behavioral issues. Although people with ASD may face many challenges, they may also have many strengths, such as a strong attention to detail, advanced abilities to absorb information, and high levels of resiliency and creativity. Many people living with ASD have led successful lives, including author and scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, physicist Albert Einstein, and environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

Despite this, students living with ASD are 63 percent more likely to be bullied than typically developing peers. Students from historically underserved and economically disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected due to delayed diagnoses and the inaccessibility of care. 

“Under the right circumstances, it can truly be a gift and turn into something you - and society - can benefit from,” shared environmental leader Greta Thunberg. “Sadly, today the level of awareness is so low. So many go undiagnosed and will therefore not receive the help they need and may go their whole life believing something is wrong with them.”

Moreover, people living with ASD face additional pressures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students lost access to professional support or in-person services when schools transitioned to distance learning. Familiar routines, which reinforced safety and security, were disrupted. 

Fortunately, schools across San Mateo County pivoted to meet students’ needs as quickly as possible. The San Mateo County SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area), which consists of 28 school districts and the County Office of Education, continued to support staff, parents, and community agencies serving students with special educational needs. Since the pandemic began, the County Office of Education and the San Mateo County SELPA have helped schools and districts to provide rich and supportive educational opportunities through in-person small groups, virtual instruction, and/or take-home materials and supplies to extend learning and progress towards each student’s goals. In addition, Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee and the San Mateo County Board of Education passed a resolution recognizing April 2021 as Autism Acceptance Month.

Autism Acceptance Month offers opportunities to build better awareness of the signs, symptoms, and realities of ASD and promote acceptance and inclusion. Below are resources for you to learn more: