As part of their mission to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and raise funding for research and support services, many organizations sponsor advocacy campaigns. These campaigns typically aim to widen the circle of people who are informed about ASD and usually focus on early diagnosis, since the timing of diagnosis has such a large impact on long-term treatment success and overall prognosis. Of all the current, active autism advocacy campaigns today, perhaps the most well-known one is World Autism Awareness Day.
In 2007, the United Nations designated April 2nd as a day to encourage all member states to focus on increasing awareness of the need for early diagnosis and intervention in order to ensure the best possible quality of life for people with autism. With the goal of highlighting autism as an international health care issue, the UN chose to make World Autism Awareness Day one of only four such “health-specific” days on its calendar.
On April 2, 2014, Autism Speaks served as a leading organization promoting the observance of the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day. The nationwide group, which is among the most widely known advocates for the rights of people on the autism spectrum, used the occasion to highlight a number of fundraising events taking place throughout the country. The organization asked its supporters to help “Light It Up Blue” on WAAD with the Twitter hashtag “#LIUB” and through other social media platforms. The group additionally encourages local affiliates to sponsor “Walk Now” grassroots walk-a-thons to raise money for research and public education, and staffs its own Autism Response Team hotline to offer information and referral services to families.
Autism Speaks is one of many autism-focused organizations that promote specific awareness and fundraising campaigns and events. A California-based nonprofit group, Train4Autism encourages athletes and other physically active individuals to join marathons, half-marathons, 5K and 10K walks, cycling tours, and other activity-based events that support autism-related research and outreach. The group’s 2014 calendar spotlighted events taking place in major California cities, as well as in Ohio and Colorado. The Organization for Autism Research is among other groups promoting such fitness-focused events through its “Run for Autism” program.
In outreach initiatives specifically aimed at African-American and Latino families, whose children with autism often do not receive early diagnosis and intervention, Autism Speaks has launched its “Maybe” campaign. Supported through a series of public service announcements, “Maybe” mirrors the strategy of the group’s earlier “Learn the Signs” campaign that resulted in a 60 percent increase in the number of parents initiating conversations with their young children’s doctors about autism. The Ad Council has assisted Autism Speaks in this effort by calling its members’ attention to the issue.
The Autism Society, among the nation’s oldest and largest advocacy and fundraising groups, supports volunteer and grassroots participation in a variety of campaign events on World Autism Awareness Day and year-round. Its brightly colored autism awareness puzzle piece ribbon appears as a symbol for sharing on social networks and through a variety of items such as magnets and pins.
Through its “Vote 4 Autism” advocacy campaign, the Autism Society offers information on pending legislation, at both state and federal levels, that affects people with autism. In one recent effort, the group used its networking strength to urge President Obama to ensure that employees on the autism spectrum would be treated equally in the workplace through receiving fair wages.
As awareness of the importance of early support increases, local organizations have found creative ways to structure campaigns. For example, the New York-based Rock Out Autism assists in developing programming and mentoring services for people with autism through a series concerts featuring popular bands.
The creativity and variety in these campaigns covers a broad spectrum of the global population, especially now that some organizations are making a concerted effort to promote autism awareness in demographics whose children tend to be diagnosed later than average. In this section, I’ll cover some of these campaigns in greater detail. From promoting awareness using hashtags on social media to running a race to raise money for research, there are many ways to get involved.