Autism Awareness Day – April 2

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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World Autism Awareness Day – UPDATED for 2012 stats

Forgive me while I get all PSA-y on you. This is near and dear to my heart.

April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day.

1 in every 88 kids is diagnosed with Autism.

It’s this one that gets me: 1 in 54 boys. What’s happening to our boys?

Including this one:

My eight year old is high-functioning autistic. His autism isn’t overly noticeable upon first glance but it comes out in subtle ways, especially if he’s having a bad day. My little guy was diagnosed 3 years ago this month and, at that time, the hubby and I wrote up this short summary of Autistic behaviors to share with our friends and family.

Autism is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood. Symptoms are different for each person and tend to continue through adulthood, though they may become more subtle over time.

For us, it was abnormal speech development that tipped us off originally. Hearing tests, speech therapy and an Early Intervention Preschool led us to a high-functioning Autism diagnosis when he was 5.

A common sign of Autism is noticeable social impairments; autistic people often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted. They also tend to have impairments in communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behavior.

Here is some more information about these three groups of symptoms:

Social Impairments

These become apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants smile and look at others less often and respond less to their own name. Autistic children from 3-5 years old are less likely to approach people spontaneously, or to imitate and respond to emotions, communicate nonverbally, and take turns with others.

My little guy used to be that way when he was younger, but he’s pretty social now. Unfortunately he doesn’t know his boundaries very well. When he talks to strangers – which he LOVES to do – he often reaches out and touches their clothing, like a zipper, a belt, a pocket, etc. He fiddles with it while he gets his words out. He’s not trying to invade your personal space. He’s just building a bridge to communicate with you.

Communication

About a third to a half of individuals with Autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. People with autism have 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.

Repetitive Behavior

  • Movement that seems purposeless, such as hand flapping, making sounds, head rolling, or body rocking. My dude flaps sometimes. When he realizes what he’s doing  he’ll say he’s a bird and start chirping and trying to “fly” with his flapping arms.
  • Compulsive behavior, such as arranging objects in a certain way.
  • Resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be interrupted when speaking. Oh man. Preparation is key. We prep him until he’s over-prepped but we can’t prep for everything. An unforeseen something, like a fall on the way to school, can turn into a 30 minute ordeal with him and whichever adult is trying to help him through it. It totally messes with his head when his daily plans are disrupted. Bad mojo.
  • Ritualistic behavior: the performance of daily activities the same way each time, such as an unvarying menu or dressing ritual. Like, “Mom, I can’t brush my teeth! I haven’t put my shoes on yet!”
  • A limited focus, interest, or activity, such as preoccupation with a single television program or toy. Yep, certain TV programs or movies. More of this when he was younger. It was soothing to him. He memorized movie lines and quoted them incessantly.

1 in 88 kids is A LOT of diagnosed Autistic kids. A LOT. If you are thanking.your.lucky.bleepin’.stars. that you don’t have to deal with this in your kids please keep in mind that it’s entirely possible your kids will be friends with Autistic kids. Or your sister or brother or cousin will have Autistic kids. Or, if you’re a teacher then you certainly will have to teach Autistic kids.

Learn about it. Be AWARE. Next time you see a kid having a meltdown in a store or on a plane then maybe it will be a little easier to understand because maybe, just MAYBE, that kid is Autistic. You won’t know. Please don’t judge that parent. They are doing the best they can. They need your understanding, your awareness and your support.

That’s an important point so please indulge me for a minute on my soapbox: Seriously, if you tell me to shut my kid up or calm him down you will see my fierce Mama Bear side come out and I’ll tell you exactly where you can shove your judgment. I’ve been pretty lucky with my boys, but I’ve seen mothers harassed on planes and it sends me through the freakin’ roof. I stick up for those moms. I give them encouragement and tell them to ignore the bonehead a-holes who HAVE NO SOUL. And then I leave them alone to deal with their child with, hopefully, a little less stress and a lot more “someonehasmyback-ness.” Compassion people. It’s not that hard. Soapbox off.

Be aware. Be compassionate. It takes a village.