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World Autism Awareness Day (April 2)

On April 2 this year, the world marks the thirteenth annual World Autism Awareness Day.

Hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes and communities around the world are set to light up in blue in recognition of people with autism and those who love and support them.

Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month, aiming to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, foster worldwide support and inspire a kinder, more inclusive world.

But what is this all about? What is autism?

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.

Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

Indicators of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.

Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

What can we do to show our solidarity with people with ASD?

One expert said just being nice with a person with autism is enough.

Keith Stuart, whose son has autism, said one of the most difficult things about autism is the judgment of other people.

"I have come to understand over the past decade that empathy is a learned skill – the ability to understand the viewpoint of another human being is not natural for a lot of people," wrote Stuart.

He said his family is "just grateful for any moments of understanding and kindness from other people."

"... Amid the intensity of modern life; amid the bustle of city streets and crowded shops; amid the sheer intensity of existence in the 21st century, it is incredibly worthwhile to notice other people, to see people who may be struggling and to make an effort to help, or even just make a space where they can help themselves," advised Stuart.

"I just feel that empathy is a skill we all have to spend time learning. A better world for people on the autistic spectrum is a better world for us all," he added.

As Christians, that is the best way we can do. To offer empathy, to show understanding, means a lot to others.

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