I promise I’ll return to posting more stuff at some point. For now, let me take a second to throw this out there, because it’s near and dear to my heart.

April is Autism Awareness Month – LIGHT IT UP BLUE!!

1 in every 88 kids is diagnosed with Autism. It’s more prevalent in boys; 1 in 54 boys.

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and the entire month of April is Autism Awareness Month. Throughout the month you may see neighbors with blue light bulbs illuminating their homes. This is in honor of Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue initiative. The Home Depot is an official sponsor of Light It Up Blue and they have arranged for the specially marked Light It Up Blue light bulbs to be manufactured and distributed throughout all of their stores March 1 through the end of April, or while supplies last. The light bulbs retail for $1.97, and $1 from each purchased, up to $150,000, will benefit Autism Speaks.

Autism is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood and there is a vast spectrum for the disorder, ranging from high- to low-functioning. Symptoms are different for each person and tend to continue through adulthood, though they may become more subtle over time – often due to the Autistic person learning about themselves and how they should or shouldn’t behave in a given situation.

Autism is often characterized by challenges in the following areas: social impairments, communication development, repetitive behaviors, resistance to change and limited or obsessive focus. Autism often goes hand-in-hand with other disorders, such as ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s and even depression. Ultimately, the specific characteristics of Autism in each individual are as varied as fingerprints – as the saying goes, if you know one Autistic person then you know one Autistic person.

Social Impairments are typically apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants smile and look at others less often and respond less to their own name. Autistic children are less likely to approach people spontaneously, communicate nonverbally (such as making faces, nodding, waving, etc), or take turns with others. Their awareness of personal space boundaries, social norms, and appropriate reactions to stimulus can be extremely limited.

Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of all Autistics do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. Autistic people often have great difficulty understanding non-verbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. It’s important to make messages verbal and explicit when talking to them. They are typically very literal and often don’t understand the use of sarcasm or humor through tone of voice.

Repetitive behaviors, often called Stimming, are typical of Autistics and can be indicative that their brains are processing something unknown or uncomfortable to them. Though it may seem odd to us, the repetitive behaviors are actually a self-soothing mechanism. The behaviors can range from hand flapping, making the same sounds over and over, body rocking, or arranging objects in a certain way.

Following a set routine is extremely important for families with Autistic children. Avoiding deviation from a planned schedule or other ritualistic behavior pattern can be instrumental in getting through every day without a meltdown. When asked to change “on the fly,” an Autistic person can shutdown, meltdown, and/or begin stimming to self-soothe through the change. Early preparation for any pending changes is key.

Also characteristic of Autistics is limited or obsessive focus, such as preoccupation with TV or movies, a specific toy for children, or even intense interest in specific people or events in history.

As I mentioned earlier, adult Autistics, generally those that are deemed high-functioning, learn to adjust their behaviors in order to live and thrive in society. It’s entirely possible you know several people, kids or adults, who are Autistic. It’s natural for us, as neuro-typicals, when we witness a behavior we don’t understand, to categorize that behavior according to our own world view; maybe we see them as naughty, rude or unfeeling when, in reality, they are none of those things. If you see a kid having a meltdown it could simply be that he is over-stimulated and the meltdown is his reaction to the tangled yarn in his brain. Be aware and be compassionate; his parents are probably completely frazzled and could use some support and empathy!

For more info, go to:

http://www.lightitupblue.org or http://www.autismspeaks.org

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