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Surrey Schools recognizes World Autism Awareness Day and World Autism Month

iStock-2031365626-autism-awareness-day.jpgOn April 2 and through the month of April, Surrey Schools recognizes World Autism Awareness Day and World Autism Month, acknowledging the diverse abilities and challenges of students with autism spectrum disorder. (Image via iStock)

Today is World Autism Awareness Day and April is World Autism Month, with both observances serving as opportunities to recognize the contributions of students and staff with autism, as well as the challenges those on the spectrum might experience.

World Autism Awareness Day was established by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a spotlight on the issues faced by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and was officially recognized by the Canadian federal government in 2012 with the passing of the World Autism Awareness Day Act. April is also commonly referred to as World Autism Month, though Canada officially recognizes October as Autism Awareness Month.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated 1 in 50 children and youth between the ages of one and 17 have been diagnosed with ASD in Canada. Additionally, because it is a spectrum, the needs of one child with ASD may differ greatly from those of another child with autism.

“We know that the lived experience of autistic students or students with ASD is unique for each individual,” said Colin Reid, Surrey Schools District Principal with Student Support. “Our belief is that supports for students with ASD should be just as individualized. We know ASD can impact each student in a different way, but by ensuring that we offer a wide variety of support options for our students, we can make sure we’re doing our best to support the diverse needs of students with ASD.”

Reid said the district works one-on-one with parents and caregivers of students with autism to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) or student support plan (SSP) for their academic success. The families identify where students may need support as well as their child’s strengths and abilities that help inform areas of focus.

“Students are best supported in their neighbourhood schools along with their peers whenever possible, and the format we use is to have a variety of localized, flexible supports available at each school,” said Reid. “As a student’s need for support changes throughout the school year or their educational career, we can adjust the level of support and the type of support provided for them in a timely manner.”

In addition to input from families, supports for students with autism can also be informed by the district’s accessibility advisory committee, a group of seven members who each either have a disability, support someone with a disability or work with an organization that supports persons with disabilities, and work together to guide the Surrey Schools Accessibility Plan. The district also collaborates with the Surrey District ABA Advisory and the Surrey DPAC Inclusion of Diverse Learners Committee to gather feedback on supports.

“One of the first members of the accessibility advisory committee was a parent of a student with autism,” said Reid. “It’s really fantastic because they bring that lens and experience as a parent into broader, districtwide conversations around accessibility.”

Providing support for students is a year-round process, but for World Autism Awareness Day and World Autism Month, Reid said everyone can do their part to increase their understanding of autism spectrum disorder and take that awareness into the rest of the school year and beyond.

“The way to celebrate this day and month is to raise awareness and promote acceptance of autism,” said Reid. “It’s really important to gain an understanding of ASD, both what it is and what it is not, to ensure the district is as inclusive as possible for students, staff, parents and caregivers with ASD.”

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