EDITORIAL: April is Autism Awareness Month


The aim of National Autism Awareness Month is to educate the public about autism. Autism is a complex mental condition and developmental disability, characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with other people. Autism can be be present from birth or form during early childhood (typically within the first three years). Autism is a lifelong developmental disability with no single known cause.

People with autism are classed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the terms autism and ASD are often used interchangeably. A wide spectrum disorder, people with autism have a set of symptoms unique to themselves; no two people are the same.

There are common characteristics found in those with this complex disability. Briefly, these characteristics include: Social skills - people with autism have problems interacting with others; empathy - people with autism find it harder to show empathy to others although they can be taught to acknowledge others' feelings; physical contact - in some cases, autistic people do not like physical contact such as hugs, tickling or physical play with others; sudden changes to their environment - a sudden change in noise, a change in intensity of lighting or even a change in smell may affect a person with autism; speech - people with autism often repeat words and phrases that they hear, their tone may be monotonous or they may not speak.

As about 1 in 150 people in America have autism, the chances are that you know someone with this disability. A better informed public will be more empathetic and supportive towards people with autism.

Parents can track their child’s development with milestone checklists (find them at www.cdc.gov/Milestones), and health care providers now have easy-to-use resources for screening children through the new Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! initiative (www.hhs.gov/WatchMeThrive). Uncovering developmental concerns and acting early is the best way for families to access the services and supports they and their children need.

The autism awareness ribbon puzzle piece pattern is said to symbolize the mystery and complexity of autism. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of people and families living with this developmental disorder. The brightness of this awareness ribbon signals hope - hope that through research the causes and a cure for autism will be identified. And hope that through increasing awareness of autism, persons with the disorder will lead fuller and more complete lives.

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