April is National Autism Awareness month, which raises the question – what is autism?
First, understand the misconceptions about autism. People with autism do not have a disease, and they aren’t broken, so they don’t need to be fixed. There is no way to protect your child from it and no diet or vaccine that will prevent it. Kids can’t catch autism at a play date, and no racial, social or economic class is safe from autism. There is no medical test for autism, and there isn’t a “cure,” despite what a celebrity talking head says on TV to sell her books.
Autism is a neurological disorder that can be diagnosed by observing an individual’s communication, behavior and development levels. A child can be diagnosed as early as 1 year old, and symptoms can lessen with early diagnosis, therapy and treatment — but people don’t outgrow autism. The Centers for Disease Control just published their latest statistics in which they determined the rate of having a child with autism is now 1 in 68 — up from 1 in 500 in 1995.
No two people with autism are alike because autism is a spectrum disorder. Symptoms and characteristics for people with autism may be mild to severe, but it’s not the same for every person. People on the autism spectrum don’t look any different than neuro-typical people, and most are quite intelligent. Autism usually appears in the first three years of life and can affect a person’s social interaction and communication skills.
Historical figures who displayed behavioral patterns associated with the autism spectrum include Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Sir Isaac Newton, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Mozart and Andy Warhol. Some believe both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have showed symptoms of undiagnosed autism.
April is Autism Awareness Month, so, please, take the opportunity to reach out to any family affected by autism and show them compassion. Take time to explain what autism is to your children.
Chances are, more than one of their classmates has been diagnosed with autism, and arming your child with information will help them to exercise compassion, rather than assign labels when a classmate is having difficulties in the classroom, the cafeteria, the auditorium, or the schoolyard. Building compassion in each other builds bridges to awareness and understanding. For more information about autism or to connect with Montana families affected by autism, visit http://www.MontanaASA.org.
(Tim Tepas of Kalisell is founder of the Autism Society of America, Northwest Montana Chapter.)