April is World Autism Month, beginning with the observed World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, officially declared by the United Nations in 2008.
During this month, as they do all year, organizations work to increase awareness and educate the public about autism, including what autism is and how many children are diagnosed each year. They also work hard to increase acceptance of, and compassion for, those with autism.
According to Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those with autism and their families, “autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”
Because the disorder consists of many subtypes, each individual experience with the disorder is different and varied.
The signs of autism, on average, present themselves by age 2 or 3, however, diagnosis can be dependent on a variety of factors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 54 children has been identified with ASD, with the disorder being four times as likely in boys than in girls.
There are several government agencies that are performing research on ASD and are working toward identifying the cause of autism. Research has increased over the years, with the CDC and a number of public and private organizations working on providing research, education, and financial support. Treatments for autism can be expensive and insurance may not cover all costs.
Fortunately, there are organizations that provide grants and scholarships to families with children who have been diagnosed with autism. Some of these organizations are Autism Cares Today, National Autism Association Helping Hand Program, and United Healthcare Children’s Foundation. Each organization has guidelines regarding grant eligibility.
There are numerous other regional and non-profit organizations that provide financial and educational assistance, while also organizing activities to raise awareness about autism and funds for research.
One such organization is the Autism Society of America, the nation’s oldest leading autism organization, founded in 1965. The Autism Society of America holds events not only during the month of April, but throughout the entire year. These events help to raise funds for research and services, and to provide a resource database that helps families find available programs for their child. Additionally, the Autism Society has a list of ways you can get involved in the autism community: https://www.autism-society.org/get-involved/.
Please show support during this awareness month and throughout the year. While financial donations are welcomed, simply showing compassion and awareness for people with autism is crucial and something we can all do. Additionally, we need to show support for the families, teachers, and healthcare workers who are working toward helping a child who has been diagnosed with autism have a full and happy life.
In the spirit of Autism Acceptance Month, let us #CelebrateDifferences this April and all year round.
Ronald G. Rios is the director of the Middlesex County Board of Commissioners. He sends a monthly column for inclusion in Newspaper Media Group publications.