Thursday, 31 March 2016

How to make Autism Awareness Month and International Day of Pink Count

How to make Autism Awareness Month and The International Day of Pink Count

I usually associate the month of April with the Easter holiday but Easter came early this year and April is coming tomorrow. As an occasional teacher I try and stay on top of the days that we are called to action, to show outright that we support our students. April is Autism Awareness Month and April 13th is The International Day of Pink to take a stand against bullying, homophobia, and transphobia.

You are probably thinking, "Those are great causes and as a teacher you are probably psyched about it!" Except, that it isn't actually what I feel. Last year on The International Day of Pink I saw students wearing the pink t-shirts and bullying other students thus, telling me that the students are not getting the point. Don't get me wrong, I love the story behind The International Day of Pink (I was in grade 12 for the first one ever) but I do think there are steps that can be taken by teachers and parents to make the day more successful.

Now you are thinking, "Well you are probably going to be decked out in blue on April 2, 2016 for Light it Up Blue, right?" Yes but I won't be supporting Autism Speaks. The Outnumbered Mama does a good job of explaining why she doesn't want people to wear blue for her autistic son (note, she prefers identity language when referring to her son) and why she does not like Autism Speaks. As a teacher, I disagree with SOME of her thoughts on autism awareness and Light it Up Blue day. I see students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) being left out of so many opportunities with their classmates, I notice school faculty being burnt out on the lack of resources available to help their students with autism, and I see many classmates still not understanding what autism is. So when there is a month dedicated to raising awareness we should embrace this month and fill school halls with support for students with autism. Does that mean the rest of the year we can forget our students with ASD? Absolutely not but we can use April to advocate more strongly for Autism awareness so that people (including politicians who give funding) who don't work with children can learn and be more informed.

Now that I just stated the issues with these days, I do think that there is definitely a need for awareness days in our schools but instead of just wearing a t-shirt, we can actually do things all year long to support these causes:

  • Bullying awareness should be an ongoing practice in every school and classroom. By praising the students who stand up against bullying and dealing with the students who do bully proactively.
  • Creating a community of learners where students feel comfortable and welcome in the classroom environment there will be less bullying.
  • Creating an inclusive environment is huge in helping students feel welcome in the classroom but are your extracurricular programs inclusive? Do you dim the lights in the gym and forgo your whistle so that students with autism can go play floor hockey with their classmates at recess? Do you encourage your students with autism to join in extra-curriculars?
  • Sharing stories throughout the year of students from varying backgrounds, abilities, and of children who challenge gender norms can help teach students that just because people are different does not mean they should be treated differently. 
  • Create activities that are inclusive out on the yard at recess so that students with ASD are able to play with their classmates.
  • Have stories in your classroom library that include children with ASD or children who challenge gender norms.
  • On Pink Day, discuss with your class the different incidences of positive things and bullying they have witnessed throughout the school and how it made them feel. By saying it aloud it will show the class how their peers like to be treated and how they don't like to be treated. 

Can you add to this list on how to make Autism Awareness Month and The International Day of Pink more successful? Leave a suggestion in the comments. Let me know if you will be participating in these awareness days and how you are going to make it more successful! If you like this post and want to see more posts like it, follow me on bloglovin' and you won't miss a post!

Xo. Tara Berries