Learning About Autism Through a Conversation with an Old Friend

During a conversation with my friend Rhonda this past weekend, she told me she was going to an Open House her daughter April was hosting to raise money for an Autism Speaks Walk.  While April now has 2 children of her own, it doesn’t seem so long ago that Rhonda and I were new young mothers ourselves.  Like all new mothers, we had a list of worries; and, while autism was on that list, it wasn’t anywhere near the top.  Yet, today, the word autism seems to be everywhere – in the news, on billboards, at grocery stores, on donation buckets for our loose change.  It made me wonder why  so I decided to do some research to learn the facts.

Autism is the generalized term used to classify a group of complex developmental disorders of the brain.  There is no medical detection for autism, nor is there a cure.  Every case is unique.  Research to-date indicates the majority of autism cases result from a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental factors influencing the early stages of brain development.    Though autism is believed to be rooted in these early stages of brain development, the most characteristic signs – difficulties in communication and social interaction, and the display of repetitive behaviors – tend to become recognizable between 2 and 3 years of age.  Behavioral therapy has proven most effective with early diagnosis and intervention.  Learning the signs of autism can help with those early diagnoses (http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/learn-signs).

Over the last 20 years, the prevalence of autism has increased 600 percent – now affecting 1 in 110 children – making it the fastest growing serious development disorder in the United States.   Why such a dramatic increase?  Doctors and researchers are still at a loss for the answer to that question.  Yet, despite the fact that more children will be diagnosed this year with autism than with AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined, autism currently receives less than 5% of the research funding provided for many less prevalent childhood diseases (http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/facts-about-autism).

In 2007, in an effort to bring the attention of the world to autism as a growing global health concern, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD).  Featuring community events around the globe, WAAD serves to develop and increase world knowledge of the autism crisis and celebrates the unique talents and skills of autistic individuals.  Autism Speaks – the world’s leading autistic science and advocacy organization – invites us all to help shine a light on autism Monday, April 2, 2012 by joining their “Light It Up Blue” initiative (http://www.lightitupblue.org/Markslist/home.do).  Iconic landmarks around the world – the Empire State Building in New York, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Cairo Tower in Egypt, the Paris Stock Exchange, the Hungarian Parliament Building, Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, Niagara Falls in Canada – will all be shining blue in celebration of WAAD.  We can all support WAAD April 2nd simply by shining a blue light at our homes and/or offices.

Before doing this research, I really didn’t know the facts about autism.  I didn’t realize how rapidly the diagnosis has grown; I had no idea researchers and doctors are still at a loss as to the cause and reason for that increase.  I can now appreciate how important it is to support organizations like Autism Speaks as they continue to raise awareness and fund research efforts.   I had a lot to learn…and, if I had to rewrite my list of worries as a young mother today, I’m thinking I would have autism much closer to the top.

A Note from April:

Walk Now for Autism Speaks unites the community in support of those affected by autism with a noncompetitive 5K walk and community resource fair where parents meet a variety of autism service providers and kids enjoy arts & crafts, moon bounces, and other fun activities.  Experience the power of thousands united by a single cause by joining Walk Now for Autism Speaks:  the fast-growing, family-friendly community dedicated to raising necessary funds for autism research, awareness, and outreach. Join us at Walk Now for Autism Speaks!

If you would like to help April in her fundraising efforts for Gavin’s Gang, you can find her team at http://www.walknowforautismspeaks.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=993401&team=4891627.

You can also support Autism Speaks by dining April 1st at The New 1776 Pub -N- Grille, located at the intersection of Rtes. 222 & 100 in Macungie, PA.  The proceeds from all orders placed at the restaurant between 12pm and 8pm will go directly to Autism Speaks.