April is Autism Awareness Month — A time for acceptance

By Ray Hemachandra | Apr 03, 2014
Ray Hemachandra

April has been known as Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s, but many people in the autism community say it’s now time the campaign evolves into Autism Acceptance Month.

One in every 88 children is diagnosed as autistic in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is even more common among boys: 1 in every 54 boys in the United States. Diagnosed rates of autism have been rising rapidly for 40 years, perhaps reflecting a growing autistic population and certainly reflecting increased awareness among parents, medical professionals, and teachers about the condition and its primary indicators. The cause of autism is not known, but scientists suspect both genetics and environmental factors play roles.

Autism is integral to a person’s being — the way a person thinks, perceives, processes, and engages and interacts with the world. You sometimes may “see” obvious manifestations of a person’s autism. But a person might present as “normal” — as neurologically typical — but still have gifts and challenges related to her or his autism.

While there is tremendous diversity, autism commonly affects language and communication, social interactions, sensory processing, motor skills, and cognitive processing. Common visible signs of autism include repetitive movements, delayed speech, avoidance of eye contact, diminished affect and social responsiveness, and intensely focused interests or aversions. Some autistics have self-stimulating repetitive behaviors, such as flapping hands, rocking back and forth, or tapping fingers. About 15 to 20 percent do not develop verbal speech, and many have difficulty processing and understanding what someone else is saying quickly. And, contrary to a common perception, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most ASD children do not have an intellectual disability.

The movement from awareness to acceptance and understanding starts with dialogue and engaging in conversation. What does it look like for so many people in our society — children and adults — to have autism? What supports should we provide autistic children and their families in schools and society? What does adult life hold for autistic people?

Autistic adults often refer to autism as a culture, rather than a condition. Autism acceptance means accepting people with autism more fully into the general culture — for neurodiversity and the acceptance of differences to become a more common part of the social fabric.

Ray Hemachandra is the father of a 13-year-old autistic son. He is a family trainer and a support parent for the Family Support Network (FSN) at Mission Children’s Hospital.  For more information on the FSN, call 213-0033 or visit www.mission-health.org.

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