World Autism Awareness Day is on 2 April 2022
by Claire Law
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To mark World Autism Awareness Day by exploring and celebrating neurodiversity.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Celebrating Diversity) and the means to display them.
- Have available the CBBC Newsround video, ‘Tyler: writing gave me my smile back’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 1.39 minutes long and is available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/45720981
- Show Slide 1.
Tell the students that you are going to show them images of six people, and you would like the students to tell you what the six people have in common.
Show Slides 2 to 7.
- Slide 2 shows Albert Einstein, who is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time.
- Slide 3 shows Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films.
- Slide 4 shows Alan Turing, the brilliant British mathematician who took a leading role in breaking Nazi codes during the Second World War.
- Slide 5 shows Billie Eilish, the American singer-songwriter.
- Slide 6 shows Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA.
- Slide 7 shows Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist.
Listen to a range of responses.
- Explain that these six people, plus at least one in seven of us, have been identified as neurodivergent.
- Show Slide 8.
Neurodiversity refers to a general diversity of minds. We are all unique, and no one’s brain is the same as anyone else’s. In this way, we are all neurodiverse.
Neurodivergence, on the other hand, is the term for when a person’s brain functions outside what is regarded as ‘typical’. People who are neurodivergent may be given a medical diagnosis, including ASD (autism spectrum disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and dyslexia, among others. Of course, what is ‘typical’ varies a great deal depending on which culture or society we live in.
- As we mentioned before, the six people on the slides are neurodivergent, so their brains function outside what is regarded as ‘typical’ for the culture in which they live.
- Let’s find out a bit more about each of them.
Show Slide 9.
Albert Einstein didn’t receive a diagnosis of neurodivergence in his lifetime, but many people believe that he showed traits that are associated with autism and dyslexia. Autism can affect social communication and interactions, behaviour and emotions. Autistic people often display traits such as great attention to detail, strong focusing skills and creativity.
- Show Slide 10.
Emma Watson was diagnosed with ADHD in childhood. The condition affects people’s behaviour, so those who have it can seem restless, may have trouble concentrating and may act on impulse. However, people who have ADHD are often great problem-solvers, and often display energy and enthusiasm.
- Show Slide 11.
Like Einstein, Turing never received a diagnosis of neurodivergence, but many people have suggested that he might have been dyslexic or autistic. Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. People who have dyslexia often have good skills in other areas, though, such as creative thinking, spatial awareness and problem-solving.
- Show Slide 12.
Billie Eilish has said that she was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome as a child. The condition causes people to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics.
- Show Slide 13.
Ingvar Kamprad had both ADHD and dyslexia. He chose to give IKEA products their distinctive Swedish names because his diagnosis made it difficult for him to work with typical inventory numbers. This is just one way in which Kamprad used creative thinking to manage how his neurodivergence affected him.
- Show Slide 14.
Greta Thunberg was diagnosed with autism as a child. In 2019, she tweeted that her autism had limited her before, but that she now regarded being different as a superpower.
- In the past, people talked about neurodivergence as a difficulty, as something to be fixed. However, we now know much more about the brain. We understand that everyone’s brain is different and that having a diagnosis of one of these neurodivergent conditions does not need to limit or restrict us.
- Show Slide 15.
Since 2008, the United Nations has designated 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day to promote understanding, tolerance and acceptance of autism.
- People who have autism and other neurodivergent conditions can sometimes struggle to be accepted. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Autistic Society, just 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid work in the UK, yet 77 per cent who are unemployed say they want to work.
- Let’s watch this short video to understand more about how one student helped to raise awareness of autism and neurodiversity.
Show the CBBC Newsround video, ‘Tyler: writing gave me my smile back’.
Time for reflection
It can be too easy to treat people who are different in a less favourable way, or focus on the things that people can’t do. Many of the main religions share the idea that we have been created by God, so all human life is special. Treating people less favourably because of their age, race or gender, or the way in which their brain operates, is a form of discrimination. Many religious teachings promote love and tolerance, and distance themselves from hatred and discrimination.
The Bible (1 Corinthians 12.12) puts it like this: ‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.’ In other words, the human race is diverse, and that is a great thing!
Show Slide 16.
Let’s take a moment now to take a really close look at our fingerprints.
Encourage the students to examine their fingers.
Everywhere we go, we carry with us a reminder that we are unique. There is no one quite like us, with our unique blend of gifts, talents and ways of seeing the world. Likewise, everyone we meet today will be unique too!
So, as we look at our own unique fingerprints, let’s consider how we can be open to difference. How can we be tolerant of it, including tolerating those who think or see the world differently?
You created us as unique and wonderful individuals.
Help us to remember and appreciate this.
Thank you for medical advances and research, which have increased our understanding.
Thank you for our increased understanding of neurodiversity.
Please help us to be more tolerant, accepting and aware of difference and diversity.
Help us to make a world in which every person’s talents and strengths can contribute to the good of all.