How can you be aware of something if you don't really know what to expect? What is autism? What does it look like? For starters, I'm going to tell you that one person's autism is not going to look like another person's autism. There will probably be striking similarities in some areas, but stark differences in others.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child's life and influences that child's ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism affects every individual differently and to varying degrees of severity. It is characterized by repetitive behaviors, difficulties in social interaction, and difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication. There is no known single cause for autism. Current statistics released from the CDC last year state that an estimated 1 in 68 children (1 out of every 42 boys and 1 out of every 189 girls) are diagnosed with autism in the U.S.
That is a very brief definition. And it still doesn't tell you what you need to be aware of, does it? I found this graphic and I really like it. If you look closely at it, you may see words and acronyms with which you are unfamiliar. Words like:
"echolalia" - meaningless repetition of another person's spoken words as a symptom of disorder
"IEP" - An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child's individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP
"stim" - (short for "self stimulation") is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects. Common autistic stims are rocking back and forth, finger flicking/rippling, spinning, humming, repeating words or sounds and complex body contortions. Stimming can, in some cases, be a self-injurious behavior. Common forms of these behaviors include head-banging, hand-biting, and excessive self-rubbing and scratching.
So when you ask a child with autism, "How was your day?" and he repeats to you "How was your day?" that is echolalia. Please be aware and understand.
When a colleague/friend/relative talks ad nauseum about their child with autism's IEP, please be aware and understand that this is a huge part of their daily lives.
When you see a child flapping their hands, repeating nonsense words/sounds to no end, or obsessively twirling their toys, please be aware and understand that that child may be autistic and stimming is a part of who they are.
And when you see a child in the middle of what appears to be a temper tantrum, please be aware and understand that you might be witnessing a meltdown, a moment when the autistic individual has become completely overwhelmed and has lost control.
In short, have an open mind and be slow to come to conclusions. Please be (autism) aware. Please understand (autism.)