Building Community During Autism Awareness Month

As the number of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rises on campuses, it’s incumbent to ensure that our environment supports them appropriately and that they are as much a part of our communities as possible, not just in April but every day.

Understanding Autism

What is autism? According to the Autism Speaks organization, “autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.” Each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Some people with ASD require significant support to function daily, others require less support. Some people are totally independent.

ASD isn’t a new diagnosis. In fact, doctors have been diagnosing it for 115 years. What is new is that the number of children and adults diagnosed with it has increased over the years. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Autism and Developmental and Disabilities Monitoring Network found that 1 in 36 eight-year-olds have been identified as having ASD.

Building Awareness

It’s important to build a strong community where students with ASD can thrive. Books featuring students with ASD that provide age-appropriate descriptions and definitions are a good way to open dialogue and help students engage with those in their classes who have ASD. Here are a few books for all age ranges.

Elementary

1. Uniquely Wired: A Story About Autism and Its Gifts

by Julia Cook and Anita DuFalla

Buy here

This is a story about a young boy named Zak who lives with autism. He knows he’s not quite like his siblings and his classmates. He wants you to understand how he experiences the sights and sounds of the world around him.

2. All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer

Buy here

This award winning book gives readers a glimpse into a day in the life of Zane the zebra. Zane is a curious, smart, caring, and honest fella who is experiencing challenges at school due to his ASD. This book highlights the day-to-day obstacles faced by students with ASD and includes a reading guide for parents, caregivers and teachers.

3. Leah’s Voice

by Lori DeMonia

Buy here

Leah’s Voice is a story about two sisters, one with ASD, and the difficulty that can arise when one tries to explain her sister’s ASD to friends, and the hurt when others aren’t kind or understanding. This book also highlights the difficulties children have when they meet a child with autism or special needs. This is a great story about the importance of including and accepting everyone.

Junior High and High School

1. Same but Different

by Holly Robinson Peete, RJ Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete

Buy here

In Same but Different Holly Robinson Peete and her children, twins RJ and Ryan Elizabeth share their life experiences of living with autism. RJ was diagnosed with ASD when he was three years old. Navigating life as a young child with autism is one thing, but living with it as a teen is another thing altogether. It’s challenging, especially when others just don’t understand. Same but Different highlights tolerance, love, and the understanding that everyone is unique. 

2. The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year Old Boy with Autism

by Naoki Higashida

Buy here

This is a one-of-a-kind memoir that shows how an autistic mind thinks. Naoki cannot speak but uses an alphabet grid to form words and build sentences to answer questions people want to know about autism. He answers questions like “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” He shares so much of what it is like to be autistic. This book is a powerful must-read to get a closer look inside the life of someone with autism.

3. Real

by Carol Cujec and Peyton Goddard

Buy here

Real is inspired by the true story of a teen girl who is nonverbal ASD who is enrolled in a public junior high. She has “mad math skills and a near-perfect memory, but a mouth that can’t speak and a body that jumps and rocks, and she howls unpredictably, most people assume she cannot learn” This story is for everyone who has ever felt they didn’t belong and reminds readers that everyone should be included.

April is set aside to celebrate and raise awareness and acceptance for those in our community with autism, but we should work every day to recognize their unique gifts and work to support, include and respect them. 


Teia Hoover Baker is an educator, published author, and entrepreneur. She is an innovative, devoted educator whose career has been dedicated to coordinating programs that support struggling learners. Her passion is meeting students where they are and guiding them to excel. Her main focus is always what is best for children. Teia holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s of Education. In her spare time, she enjoys being Lovie to her growing grandchildren.

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