Prepare to be Autism-Aware

Is it Autism Awareness Month again already? Hurry! Grab the blue light bulbs! Find a clean blue shirt! Where is that damned puzzle piece ribbon lapel pin? Who took my vehicle magnet?

It’s that time of year again when The Wanderer cover page displays that little puzzle piece ribbon you sometimes see around on minivan bumpers or on social media – the now ubiquitous symbol of Autism Awareness. Landmarks across Tri-Town, the country, and across the globe are once again lit in blue as the world becomes a little more autism-aware, and hopefully, more open to and accepting of the ‘neuro-diversity’ of the human race.

Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and Autism Awareness Month in April serve to bring this issue into the forefront, or at least long enough to toss some seeds into the transient consciousness of mainstream society with hope that as many of them as possible will sprout and grow roots in the so-called ‘neuro-typical’ world.

Right this minute, you might not find yourself in a particular situation that requires moving beyond autism-aware to autism-interested or autism-involved. Yet, for the safety and wellbeing of a growing population of people entitled to inclusion and striving for acceptance, it is pertinent … no, it’s critical that everyone be made autism-aware.

First responders and law enforcement personnel need to be able to identify a person they encounter during an emergency who might have autism– what to do and what definitely not to do.

Doctors and new mothers should know the first signs of autism the earliest as possible in order to ensure the best chance for the child to develop to its highest potential.

A little autism awareness could stop onlookers from hastily judging the kid in the restaurant who is having a meltdown because the fries were crinkle cut rather than shoestring like they always are because, in this kid’s experienced reality, fries literally mean shoestring fries and crinkle-cut throws off the entire order of the Universe.

Children who are autism-aware can better understand the kid at the playground who is off playing on her own and not responding to their ‘hello’ and still keep trying to engage with her in play.

For those unfamiliar with autism, here is a quick primer:

Autism is an umbrella term to describe a spectrum disorder that affects development, the ability to engage socially, speech/communication ability, and often correlates with other conditions like epilepsy, gastrointestinal issues, and the immune system.

The characteristics of autism vary depending on which part of the ‘spectrum’ one is found. Some people with a type of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome might be abundantly verbal and seem verbally advanced at a young age, yet lack social skills that do not come inherently. Some people with autism are unable to regulate their emotions. Others are delayed in speech or do not speak at all without adaptive technology used to communicate alternatively.

Some autistic people use repetitive movements called “stims” to assist in self-regulation for sensory soothing, prefer to be alone, or have intense interests that keep them engaged for hours. Some love music, math, trains, or any number of ‘unusual’ interests like street signs, railroad crossings or bridges, and some fixate on Johann Sebastian Bach and brands of toilets like my little kiddo.

Last year, I let readers know that I am Mom to a now 12-year-old autistic son, and I shared some of my experiences from a mom’s perspective on this journey we call autism. This year, I intend to do the same.

If you don’t already know a person with autism, chances are you soon will as the population of people with autism continues to rise. The CDC still pegs the statistics at 1 in 68, but there is some murmuring of an update of 1 in 45. Yes, possibly one in every 45 babies born will develop autism. And prevalence of autism in boys is notably higher: three out of four kids with autism are boys. Mine is one.

On April 2 and throughout the month, you may notice that some porches and lampposts will be lit with blue light bulbs as a symbol of autism awareness. Rochester has confirmed that it will again be “Lighting It Up Blue” beginning on April 2 at the Town Hall. Mattapoisett is joining in the event again as well, with blue lights displayed at its Town Hall, and this year Marion will be displaying blue lights acknowledging Autism Awareness Day in front of the Town House, joining hundreds of famous landmarks everywhere that will switch to blue lights for the month of April to honor those with autism and the ones that love, care for, and teach them.

By Jean Perry


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