Love and therapy are, however, essential
April is Autism Awareness Month, and it is something to be recognized and celebrated. Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life.
Knowing the signs is important. Early detection and identification can change lives. Autism is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early detection and intervention lead to considerably improved outcomes.
According to Autism Society’s website (www.autism-society.org/), here are a few signs you should look for in the children in your life:
• Lack of or delay in spoken language
• Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
• Little or no eye contact
• Lack of interest in peer relationships
• Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
• Persistent fixation on parts of objects
Shameka Griffin, who is a parent to two autistic boys, recalls, “I found out [they were autistic] at two very different times in their childhood even though I knew when they were both very young, but Gianni wasn’t diagnosed till he was 11 and JB when he was one and a half.”
Griffin says it is important for people to know it’s false that “vaccines cause autism, autism is terrible, and kids grow out of it, and that [it] can be [cured]. In addition, much like all mental health conditions, there are only treatments and therapy.
“Autism is manageable and can be difficult, but it is not the end of dreams or hopes for a child. My son Gianni is evidence of that,” Griffin explains.
Children with autism are different but not less than other kids. Internalization of normal senses, moods and emotions can sometimes cause children living with autism internal and external pain. Every single autistic person is different.
Jila Ewart, Griffin’s best friend, also told MSR, “Being [that] my son Jordan is an adult living on the profound end of the spectrum, my focus and perspective comes from a different place. He was diagnosed at age three. He’s now 26.
“He’s completely nonverbal. No formal communication like signing or writing. [He’s also legally blind and lives with epilepsy seizures.] He’s beyond bright and is astoundingly adaptable and observant. His smile lights the room and his laugh is infectious.”
“They are not all like [Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film Rain Man], Griffin explained. Ewart agreed.
Occupational, musical, vision and speech therapy are potential major keys to unlocking the inner individual selves of children living with autism. Communication can be very difficult. Parents or providers have to find what works for each child. More professionals need to be trained, and more specialized schools need to be established.
Autonomy is a common behavior for autistic children and adults. Being alone is a way of life for them even though they need and want to have friends and fun. As a way to incorporate autistic adults, many companies like Google and Microsoft are making special efforts to hire autistics for their talents.
Ewart continues, “[Jordan] and others living with autism need far more lifelong resources, outlets, funding and opportunities to reach their full potential and express themselves as best they can. Most importantly, they need love and to be treated equally!
“My adult child isn’t broken, he’s awesome. He may be an adult by age, but he still deserves the tools needed to keep growing.”
When children with autism reach adulthood, many of the resources are no longer available. “We don’t want a cure, we want funding, programs that aren’t simply adult day care, but programs that continue to offer these vital therapies and outlets to adults on the spectrum. We don’t want pity; we want support and understanding.
“We want the best quality of life possible! We’re not asking for the impossible or for a miracle. We’re asking for help!” Ewart explains passionately. If you want to help, you just have to do the research and make the time.
Here are a few things you can do to get involved and support Autism Awareness this month:
• Download the National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM) poster and distribute it to schools, libraries and community centers in your neighborhood.
• Recognize and honor someone who is affected by autism and share their story.
• Share your experiences and stories with NAAM or autism with your community.
• Donate time or funding to programs that support autism awareness and interventions.
Brandi Phillips welcomes all reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandi Phillips is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.