In case you are not aware, April is Autism Awareness Month. As a blogger here on the Patch, I missed a pretty big opportunity to spread the word about autism by my lack of blogging. For that, I am very sorry. So I would like to take a moment, near the end of this month, to do a little sharing of information about autism.
First, I am the mom of a girl with autism. You might not know this, but boys are much more likely to have autism than girls. The most recent statistics show that 1 in 88 children have autism, but 1 in 54 BOYS have autism. Wow. This is quite the change from 1970 when 1 in 10,000 children were afflicted with this developmental disorder. Only 42 years have passed, making this an epidemic!
My daughter is 12, almost 13. She actually has a diagnosis of PDD-NOS. That means "pervasive development disorder, not otherwise specified." Basically, she has the traits of autism but does not fit into the other classifications (classic autism or asperger's). She is also considered 'high-functioning.' This means that she can be in a regular classroom, can verbalize her thoughts and can do most everything in school that a 'neuro-typical' child can do. She does, however, have aides with her in every classroom. She frustrates VERY easily, has very poor fine motor skills that require her to use an ipad for note-taking instead of pen or pencil.
She is in her fourth 9-weeks of 7th grade at Riverview Jr/Sr High School. If anyone has a child with special needs heading down to that school, all I can say is the staff are WONDERFUL. They have met Mia's every need. They have helped her through some very difficult pitfalls of junior high and she is a much better child for it. They are caring, pro-active and extremely capable of dealing with kids on the spectrum.
At this point, I should point out that if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Yes, that is quite the, 'duh' statement, but there is meaning behind it. Autism is a vast spectrum. There are people all across it. Classic autism includes those who are non-verbal, prefer spinning or flapping their hands and might not ever progress beyond a toddler, develpmentally. On the other end of the spectrum, Asperger's, is where you find extremely high-functioning individuals. These are what might be referred to as 'little professors.' Many of these individuals have intelligence off the charts and are full of incredible amounts of knowledge but often lack basic social skills.
After the movie, "Rainman" came out, many assumed that Dustin Hoffman's character was the epitome of autism. While he is on the spectrum, he does not represent the vast array of different forms that autism can take. I think of his character sometimes when Mia is doing her math. Her teachers have commented that she has a 'calculator brain.' She can do math incredibly easily in her head. She only has to be shown a new math concept once and she has it mastered. She has an incredible memory that helps to off-set her less-than-stellar language processing abilities.
Let me wrap up this blog by asking you to take one thing away from this information. You might not currently know of anyone with autism. You might not have met a child with autism. You might actually get through your life and never meet anyone with autism. But I highly doubt it. What is more likely is that you have encountered dozens of children and adults with autism and never knew it. Have you been out in public and saw a parent struggling to keep a very unruly child under control? Have you met someone at work who was very blunt and never seemed to care if their words caused hurt feelings? Think about the kids you went to school with.... remember the 'quirky' kids who were obsessed with transformers, star wars, pokemon or even sports? How about that teacher or professor you had who was brilliant but had NO social skills?
Yup, it is extremely likely you have already been touched by autism. As a community, we need to accept that autism is a part of us, and those who deal with it 24/7 could really, really use our support. Don't judge behavior so quickly any more. Don't assume parents are letting their child misbehave. Don't get so angry with the person at the front of the line who can't seem to 'hurry up.' Take a deep breath, thank God you are neuro-typical, and try to make each little situation a bit better.
Autism Awareness might be promoted in April everywhere else, but it lives in my house 365 days a year.