Most of you already know that April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 was National Autism Awareness Day. As I’ve said in the past, everyday is Autism Awareness Day in our house. However, recent events in the media have shown that it’s more prevalent in many households now. This means that the word awareness may need to be changed to acceptance.
A report released last week by the Center for Disease Control states that the number of children diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically in the past two years. The past figures have shown that 1 in 110 children were recognized as being autistic. The new numbers show a nearly 25 percent increase to 1 in 88. The report also shows that 1 in 54 boys are diagnosed and 1 in 252 girls. That equals more than a million children affected directly.
Let’s put this into perspective. According to Autism Speaks there are more children affected by autism than by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome – combined. By no means am I down playing any of these other issues, I’m simply trying to spread light on the issue.
So the question I always get is, “Are they being diagnosed more now, or are the numbers really increasing?” In my opinion it’s both.
Let’s look at some more statistics. Autism Society reported that 40 percent of Americans know someone with autism. This equals approximately 760,000 people in Oklahoma alone. So the awareness of autism is more widespread. We are reaching the masses by letting them know about what autism is and what you can do to help children with autism.
However, there is also an increase of children with the disorder. When I speak to student that I work with I always ask if anyone knows someone with autism. Usually at least a third of the room has a relative, friend, or neighbor who has autism. They are directly affected by the disorder because someone close to them has been diagnosed.
I remember when I was in school there were not that many students with autism - at least we didn’t know if they were. If I look back I can only think of only one student who would have been considered autistic. Now days there are usually one or two students. This is causing major issues with our teachers and administration.
Of course the other side of this is that there are better ways of diagnosing children these days. More things go under the umbrella of autism. We are also getting diagnosis at a younger age now. All of these things are factors in the increasing numbers.
The bottom line though is that this is no longer just an issue that affects a few people, the family down the street, or a distant relative. It’s now considered an epidemic. This means there has to be something done on national and state levels to help in many ways. It’s not just about awareness anymore. We are aware. Now we need to be actively pursuing reasons behind the cause. We need to work with legislators to find ways to help those with autism gain more benefits. These children will grow up to be adults and need care or advocacy to help them enter the working world. They need therapies to get them to that point. The numbers are only going to continue to rise if we don’t find a cause and a solution.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.