April 17, 2013

Autism Awareness: What Does it Mean to You?

by Dana Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D
Assistant Professor and Chair, Center for Applied Behavior Analysis, The Sage Colleges

As you probably are aware, April is Autism Awareness Month. The effects on my life include an increase in puzzle pieces and blue pictures on Facebook, more talk about autism in certain venues, and heightened discussion of awareness within forums that I frequent. As a professional working with individuals with autism and their families for 20 years, I personally am very aware of the incidence of autism, the impact it has on people and those who care about them, and the need for better research, services, and funding. Like any issue around which more awareness is needed, autism is complicated and impacts people on different levels. I would never try to assume what “autism awareness” means to the parent of a child with autism, or an individual on the spectrum, or to friends or family members. What I can tell you is what it means to me.

  • Raising awareness may increase empathy and assistance for those with autism when they are in the community or having difficulty. Most of my experiences supporting children with autism in mainstream school settings and community events have been overwhelmingly positive, but there are still people who don’t understand a disability that can affect someone’s behavior but not the way they look. Parents of children with autism describe suffering dirty looks and nasty comments from people who might react better, if they knew better. Bullying might decrease if more children and adolescents understood the possible nature of their peers’ differences.
  • Raising awareness might lead to earlier diagnosis and effective intervention. Just a handful of years ago, most parents reported that doctors reacted to their concerns with, “He’s a boy – boys talk later,” or similar responses. Many of these families lost valuable learning time and wasted money on excessive evaluations and inadequate treatments. My personal observation is that pediatricians are becoming more responsive, and kids are getting earlier treatment. The quality of treatment still varies, however, and we need to improve here. The science is there, the technology is there, we even have more professionals to help – but funding streams and education for parents need to catch up.
  • Raising awareness might help increase work and educational opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. More children with autism means more adults with autism. We can and should work hard at mitigating the effects of this diagnosis early in life to improve later outcomes, but the fact remains that many people on the autism spectrum will need lifelong support of varying levels. As a society, we need to make room for these individuals, provide them with safety, personal dignity, and freedom, and keep thinking outside the box to do so.

So, what does autism awareness mean to you?  We’d love to hear your comments.


6 comments on “Autism Awareness: What Does it Mean to You?

  1. Maria

    I as a person on the Autism spectrum I often want people to be aware we can do so much including attending college . I have trouble with sensory issues but I’m like everyone else . Still people see me as odd or wonder why I even try. Sadly I’m always trying to navigate what to have friends and what I should do to keep them. I wanted to go to college for a very long time. When I found the achieve degree program . I was thrilled as I thought to myself. Did I just find the perfect program. Where I can learn and receive enough support that my disability does not appear.

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    • Laura

      We are thrilled that you are finding success at Achieve, and really glad that you feel you have found a place where you have the support that you need to learn!

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  2. Dina Nazario

    Raising awareness is so essential in today’s society, particularily in people understanding there is no “cookie cutter” individual with autism. Autism is a continuum and each individual presents differently. Many people feel they know what an individual with Autism looks like becuse they read it in a book, or even worse, watched “rainman”. Children like my son are often misunderstood since he is verbal and mistaken as bratty or defient. His anxiety is often an annoyance for his teachers. When I have explained his behaviors due to anxiety, I have been told by teachers that he “just needds to get over that”. His self-esteem is constatnly being battered. There needs to be more awareness and education to the many, many behaviors that make up an individual on the Spectrum.

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  3. Dana

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Dina. Your son is lucky to have a mom who understands him and will fight for him!

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  4. Carol Alford

    I too have a wonderful Autistic son who is now 29 years of age and he just achieved his Associates degree in Natural Science at our community college. He tried to go on to a major university but failed because of his lack of math skills. He so wanted his Bachelors to show the world he was good enough to earn it. It deeply hurt both my husband and myself, but what else can we do. I am constantly brainstorming on ways to help my son achieve his dream of being a productive person and paying his own way out in the world. Today I came across Achieve Degree on Google and thought maybe we have a way to help him now through Sage online college; I certainly don’t know if Sage online college is the answer but I am willing to look into it to see if it would be beneficial to my son. He can only pay for school through a pell grant but that may have gone down the drain since he had to leave UofH. Thank you for listening.

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  5. Dana

    Thanks for sharing, Carol! We’d be happy to talk with you about your son’s situation and what we may be able to do to help. Please contact our program director, Laura Stolfi, at (518)244-2467.

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