Imagine being a teacher of 1st graders and only having a single month of the school year to teach students how to do math. For the rest of the year, you can teach them how to read and write, but they have to figure out math on their own. How many of them would be able to tell you what 35 divided by 7 equals when you ask next September?
Although families of individuals with autism are constantly striving to raise awareness of this disorder, April is the only month specifically dedicated for the Autism community to come together and accomplish this. With that responsibility in mind, one question persists: who makes up the Autism community?
By definition, a community is a group of people based on a common characteristic, or in this case a common mission. The mission to raise awareness is crucial because, no pun intended, it is puzzling that there are still so many people who are unaware of what autism is and how it affects people and their families. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism - a 100% increase in prevalence from 10 years ago. Almost half of those people face the struggle of never having held a paying job by the age of 25.
While these facts are important, their existence alone isn’t what creates a community. Community is created by connecting to people. Community is created by listening to the stories of others to understand who they are and the challenges they have overcome. Community is created by taking action.
In fact, one of the widest accepted theories of community in psychology, created by McMillan and Chavis, is that there are four factors that are essential to the creation of a community:
Members are more attracted to a community in which they feel that they are influential.
If you feel that you are making a difference, rather than taking on a passive role, you gain more from participation.
There is a significant positive relationship between cohesiveness and a community’s influence on its members to conform. Thus, both conformity and community influence on members indicate the strength of the bond.
If members can agree on a way to enact positive change, their influence on others who join and share that mission will be rewarded by a stronger relationship with others in the community.
The pressure for conformity and uniformity comes from the needs of the individual and the community for consensual validation. Thus, conformity serves as a force for closeness as well as an indicator of cohesiveness.
This idea of a common mission is important because it is vital not only to reassure members that their actions make a difference, but to show them. A reminder that what you’re doing is significant and has a positive influence helps you to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Influence of a member on the community and influence of the community on a member operate concurrently, and one might expect to see the force of both operating simultaneously in a tightly knit community.
Small actions of support lead to a whole greater than the sum of the parts, and in time can create change.
That is why to kick off this April, Spectrum Designs is introducing The Prism blog. With 25 full or part time workers with Autism, there are so many stories to be heard and shared. Its mission is to be a window that grants a real view of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It will be a place where those who are struggling can gain strength from stories of triumph, and where those who are proud to be part of the community can encourage others.
More importantly, it will sustain the dialogue that Autism Awareness month creates long after April comes and goes.
Its success will be through excelling in the areas that are key to developing a community. The blog’s common cause of spreading awareness of autism will be through the writing. Encouragement to complete the mission will be through your participation.
We invite you to be part of The Prism experience. Your involvement can be as simple as responding to a comment, and as involved as sharing your own story to add to the dialogue. Joining in an experience, large or small, can spark a movement that will change the lives of individuals who need it.
A great place to start is by joining yourcommunity in lighting up the world in blue tomorrow, April 2nd.
Spectrum Designs’ mission is to increase gainful employment opportunities for young people with autism, and this blog can be the foundation for change through the power of sharing its messages. So please, let us know what you care to see different about this world. Encourage others to read and to think about the possibilities for the future. Believe in the power of coming together as a community to share a powerful message with others. Make this blog a part of your voice and a path on your journey.
We're so proud to be able to showcase not only our great products, but even the modelling talent of some of the individuals with developmental disabilities that work with us here. We hope that you like what you find, and take pride in knowing that all the proceeds from every purchase you make here go towards helping turn individuals with autism - a population with a 90% unemployment rate - into accomplished and valued members of our team.
Together we can empower these exceptional individuals to live fulfilling and more productive lives.