Autism Awareness Month

By Staff Writer Tighe Ratcliffe.

April, spring has just sprung, the weather is getting better, and for those who are touched by autism it’s a time for awareness to be spread.

Autism Society writes, about 1% of the world population is on the autism spectrum (myself included), and roughly 1 out of 59 people born in the US are affected by it. More than 3.5 million Americans live life on the spectrum, and the rate of people being diagnosed with it has gone up by 6-15% each year from 2002-2010.

With it being such a prevalent condition affecting so many lives, you would think it would get more attention. But increasingly the attention that it is getting is from the Anti-Vaccination community who fear that vaccines cause autism, which has been proven wrong multiple times. There is such a massive stigma against the autism community, and it’s leading to serious issues.

A wide range of conditions fall under the general term of Autism Spectrum Disorder. People on this spectrum usually start displaying signs during early childhood because autism affects the communication and social behavior skills that many people take for granted.

According to the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, some characteristics that autistic people can experience are different sensory experiences such as heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, or physical sensations. Non-standard ways of learning or approaching problem-solving, deeply focused thinking and passionate interests in specific subjects help convey autistic symptoms along with atypical and sometimes repetitive movement (stimming), and a need for a consistent routine/order. Lastly, there can be some difficulties in understanding and expressing language used in typical social settings, verbal and non-verbal.    

There is no one cause for autism, and there isn’t a cure. The best hope that someone on the spectrum has is early diagnosis along with treatments and therapies that help us adapt to our particular issues. Many of us on the spectrum given the right tools and accommodations can be very successful members of society.

But there are those on the spectrum who need more accommodations, roughly one-third of autism cases. They might be non-verbal, and never fully develop the skills they would need to live independent lives. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t content or happy. Given the right support, those who are more severely impacted by autism live happy lives.

But the stigma against autism is very prevalent. Many kids, up to two-thirds, with autism are horribly bullied throughout childhood (again myself included). And those with autism are more likely to have anxiety and depression. However, once again, early diagnosis and treatments can significantly help those on the spectrum. Simply having a support system can drastically improve the life of autistic people.

The symbol for Autism Awareness Month often incorporates a puzzle piece. This has had some skepticism in the past since organizations like Autism Speaks uses it, and the puzzle piece can spread a demeaning view of autism.

Many feel like it’s saying that they are an incomplete person, missing a piece. Recently, many in the community have called for a new symbol: a rainbow infinity sign, celebrating unity and hope.

Many people in the autistic community also argue for the adoption of the term “Autism Acceptance Month” instead of “Autism Awareness” as the community is looking for acceptance and support, rather than only “awareness.”

The bottom line is autism isn’t going away, if anything diagnostics are better able to detect autism and help accommodate those in need. For now, it’s important that we educate people about how to properly interact with people on the spectrum. Although this isn’t just a one shoe fits all kind of situation. Every person with autism is different, and deserve to be treated as an individual, not a disorder.

A good way to think about people with autism is that they are not disabled. Rather, think of us as people who experience the world differently than you may. Given the opportunity, autistic people have so much to offer. They see the world in a different way, and their unique perspective might, and have made significant achievements and progress.

If you want to learn more about autism, and what you can do during Autism Awareness Month, go to websites like Autism Society and Autism Self Advocacy Network. All this month, there have been 1 mile and 5K runs in places like Providence and Boston (both happened on the 6), and there is another one going on April 27, again in Providence and Boston. Also, on April 27 there will be a “sensory-friendly” kite day on Bose Mountain in Framingham, MA for kids with autism.


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