April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day. To get information about autism, see Autism Speaks. This site was recommended to me by someone who is very knowledgeable about autism, both personally and professionally. Update: And now, a few words from her:
April is Autism Awareness Month
I’m using quality blog space on my brother’s site (and he’ll have to do the retyping) to address what autism awareness means to the families and friends of people with autism.
Current statistics cite that 1 in 110 people has some form of autism (CDC, 2010); of that 110, 70 are boys. As a very basic definition, autism is a neurological disorder (notice I don’t say disease) that affects a person’s communication, social/emotional skills and behavior throughout the course of that person’s life. There is no cure, though people respond to a smorgasbord of interventions that can include behavioral therapy, speech/language therapy and communication systems, occupational and/or physical therapy, changes in diet, and my personal favorites – social skills training and play therapy.
Even though they may fall under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), people with autism are as individual as snowflakes. One of my friends with autism has an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs; another will only eat crunchy foods due to sensory needs. A third sounds like a robot when she talks. The lives of those we love who have autism are endlessly fascinating and sometimes just plain old quirky. But if we look at ourselves through their eyes, we’re strange, weird creatures ourselves. For example, why can’t we just say what we mean? Why does it bother you if I stand nose-to-nose with you when we’re talking? Why can’t we all just talk about dinosaurs all day long? Why do I have to have my smushy foods on the same plate as my crunchy foods and why do you do that thing where you put two arms around me and squeeze me?
My job as an advocate for people with autism is to remind us all that we don’t get to measure the quality of someone else’s life simply by the alphabet soup that surrounds their name. Maybe Shaniqua has PDD-NOS and John has Asperger’s Syndrome and Stephanie has classic ASD and Ezekiel has Fragile-X (all of these are types of autism) – but last time I checked, these are people who have favorite movies and favorite foods and who love to laugh with friends and avoid chores like the rest of us.
There’s a reason the national symbol for autism awareness is a puzzle piece. On the one hand, autism is confusing: a puzzle with multiple pieces that requires lots of us working together to understand. On the other hand, and this is my own analogy, people with autism are the puzzle pieces: necessary to completing the picture that is our humanity. They fit within our lives and they certainly fit within our hearts. And thank goodness for it.