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.