April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day, dedicated to addressing stigmas and educating the public about autism. According to Autism Speaks Canada, 1 in 88 children are affected by autism, with boys being four times more likely to develop the disorder.
Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s social abilities and behavioural development. Many people with autism become anxious in social situations and have trouble communicating. This makes community involvement difficult.
Everyone has a right to be a contributing member of society, but persons with autism sometimes are socially excluded and face challenges gaining employment.
Justin Dewaard is the Senior Case Manager of the STRIVE program at The Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries. STRIVE provides support to adults with developmental disorders through individualized programs that helps integrate participants into their community. Justin states: “Everyone has something to offer. Being different does not mean you are less valuable or that you don’t have something to give to your community.”
Initiatives like STRIVE help break barriers and fight stigmas by highlighting a person’s abilities and not focusing on what limits them. World Autism Awareness Day reminds us to look past differences and see that everyone, no matter their level of ability, has a role to play within their community.