Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month: A Growing Community and Collaboration

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This article was contributed by David Laxton, ASNC Director of Communications.

It’s remarkable how much more the public and media understand and talk about autism today. Maybe it’s because more people are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Maybe it’s because there are more opportunities to learn about the needs of the community. Whatever the reasons, increased understanding is a good thing. With understanding comes acceptance. With acceptance comes a willingness to listen, collaborate, and focus on the needs of individuals with ASD and the autism community. This month, we have seen several examples of the progress that the autism community has made in raising awareness and acceptance.

First, let’s look at the numbers. On March 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the latest findings from its ongoing autism prevalence study. To no one’s surprise, the prevalence increased in the overall study sample (11 states) and in North Carolina, where 11 counties were monitored. According to the CDC study, 1 of every 58 North Carolina children will be diagnosed with ASD, a 17 percent increase from the prevalence rate of 1 in 70 reported in 2012. What will the numbers be in 2016? Most likely higher.

This trend is also reflected in the NC Statistical Profile, an annual survey that the NC Department of Public Instruction conducts of students in public schools. The Statistical Profile shows that the number of students with ASD is growing 15-17 percent annually and has increased by more than 10,000 in the past 10 years. The overall student population has grown at an annual rate of only 2-3 percent during that time. The CDC study authors attributed part of the jump in prevalence to better awareness among school personnel and the public. This increased awareness of the signs and symptoms means kids can be identified earlier and start receiving support. The ongoing challenge is to ensure that school personnel are trained in best practices and equipped with the classroom resources needed to teach each child in the most effective way possible. This cannot be a one-time expense. Ongoing training and resources must be funded.

Many communities are taking steps to help teachers and students understand and accept our students with ASD. In April, several schools requested awareness information and posters to put up throughout their buildings. Teachers and parents shared information about autism with other students, and self-advocates shared their stories to help professionals “see the other side” of autism.

As people learn more, the challenge is to turn understanding into ongoing action and support. During April, throughout North Carolina, ASNC and its chapters and support groups held community events and fundraisers to provide money to support teachers and autism classrooms. These activities help meet the goals of increasing understanding and improving the educational experience. Also, they provided friends, relatives, and co-workers an opportunity to offer support and help. But is one month of activity enough? No. Will all the money raised cover the needs of the autism community? No.

April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and we rightly celebrate and work hard to make it a success. However, we must recognize that it’s just one month on the calendar. Every day presents an opportunity, an opportunity to educate and involve people in our community. We all have to accept that challenge and actively work together to continue these efforts. Why? To paraphrase a book title, “it takes a village.” Today’s students with ASD will become tomorrow’s adults with ASD. As adults, they deserve the opportunity to choose to continue their education, join the workforce, live in their community, and contribute to society in their own unique ways. And adults with ASD looking for jobs today need employers willing to give them an equal shot. Friends, family members, co-workers, and businesses need to understand that it’s no longer a matter of whether they know someone affected by autism, but how many people do they know, employ, or support who have autism as a part of their life.

Thanks to everyone for all of your efforts this month to spread the word and increase understanding and acceptance. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Take a moment to reflect and catch your breath. Okay, now that you’ve done that, here are a couple of reminders: The legislative session begins in two weeks! Summer camp begins in less than a month! Let’s get ready to get back to work.

David Laxton can be reached at 919-865-5063 or dlaxton@autismsociety-nc.org.

 

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