Autism Society of America
The Autism Society of America (ASA) is the main grassroots autism organization for the United States. This organization has over 50,000 members and 200 chapters throughout the nation. The group works to promote autism awareness through symbols like the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon. The ribbon displays interlocking puzzle pieces in red, yellow, blue and teal that represent the diversity and complexity of autism. The ASA also helped establish national awareness events like Autism Awareness Month, which is held in April of each year.
The Autism Society of America is sometimes confused with the National Autism Association (NAA). Although both grassroots organizations are made up of families living with autism, doctors, and other autism professionals, the NAA focuses more on safety and other urgent needs for autistic individuals. The ASA takes a more comprehensive approach, including research, advocacy, and support networking in their primary mission.
Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., authored a book in 1964 called Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior. It was one of the first books of its kind. When parents of autistic children began contacting him to ask questions, he saw the need for an advocacy group and the Autism Society of America was born. Today, the organization is both the oldest and largest grassroots movement representing the autism community.
The group has pioneered in other ways as well. Since 1969, ASA advocates have played a substantial role in critical legislation that provides rights for people with autism and other disabilities, such as
- Section 504, which prohibits disability-based discrimination in schools
- The Developmental Disabilities Act (DDA), which established grant funding and financial aid for organizations that assist families with a developmentally disabled member
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which ensures that children with autism and other disabilities receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) tailored to their needs and abilities
In addition to helping implement important legislation, the ASA has done more than advocate for autistic individuals. In 1988, Temple Grandin became the first person with autism to serve on the organization’s board. Ms. Grandin is a nationally recognized expert and speaker on both cattle and autism. Since her appointment, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have continued to serve in influential positions throughout the ASA.
Understanding the ASA’s mission
The ASA’s primary mission is to improve the lives of everyone affected by autism through advocacy, education, support, services, and research. These five core competency areas are a means for achieving the organization’s vision. Simply put, that vision is to see individuals and families living with autism treated with dignity, maximizing their quality of life, and valued by society for their unique skills and talents.
The ASA works at local, state, and federal levels to advocate for autism needs The group takes a proactive approach to informing and developing public policy at these levels, as well as working with the greater disability community. They advocate for a diverse approach to solving autism’s challenges to empower individuals and families impacted by ASD to be included in society and self-determine their lives.
The ASA is one of the leading authorities on autism and autism-related subjects. They provide current, relevant information so parents, teachers, and people on the autism spectrum can make informed decisions. They also encourage community education and outreach through local chapters.
Since the ASA is a strong grassroots network, support and connections are the lifeblood of their community. The organization connects autistic individuals, families, researchers, doctors, and other autism professionals. The resulting network fosters connection and provides valuable feedback and assistance at all levels of interaction. Local chapters enable families to get the resources they need, where they need them.
In many areas of the country, new therapies and other resources can be difficult to get. The Autism Society provides grants to service organizations to promote local service delivery to families living with autism.
Rather than solely focusing on the clinical aspect of research, the ASA is interested in translating results into practically applied solutions. The organization recognizes and supports current and new research that can improve the quality of life for autistic individuals and their families.
Becoming a member
The Autism Society offers membership at several levels, including Household, Champion, Professional, and Lifetime memberships. Currently, membership fees range from $40 at the household level to $1500 for lifetime members.
Every member receives a digital subscription to ASA’s Autism Advocate, a digital magazine that keeps members informed of the latest autism-related developments. Members also receive access to resource information, advocacy and a valuable support network for families impacted by autism.
Professional members also receive a music-based teaching download that includes adaptable songs, flashcards, lesson plans, and visual aids. The material targets common developmental and educational goals and assists educators in teaching these skills to autistic children.
How the ASA uses membership dues
Membership dues help fund several projects, including
- Autism Source ™, an information and referral department with a nationwide scope
- The Annual Autism Society National Conference, the nation’s longest-running autism conference
- The Autism Advocate, a comprehensive journal that provides information on autism developments
- Advocacy at the state, federal, and local levels
- Support through local chapters
Donating to the ASA
The ASA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which means donations are tax deductible. In addition to cash donations, the organization accepts vehicle donations, stock, and planned giving options. Some workplace campaigns offer to match employee donations; talk to your employer to see whether the ASA is listed as an option for giving.
Like the puzzle pieces displayed on the Autism Awareness Ribbon, autism is a beautiful, intricate, and challenging diagnosis. Fortunately, the Autism Society of America and groups like it provide support, information, and advocacy for this diverse community.