DOVER — Today is World Autism Awareness Day, the second day of National Autism Awareness Month and at 3 p.m., Gov. Jack Markell will sign a proclamation at Legislative Hall to have the month officially recognized in Delaware.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a broad term covering a large number of complex disorders affecting brain development. They vary in symptoms and severity.
Disorders that fall in the spectrum are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. The two most well-known disorders are autism and Asperger syndrome.
ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Since the severity can range so widely, some individuals will grow to become successful independent adults while others will remain wholly dependent throughout their lives.
Although ASD causes many obstacles, some individuals with ASD may excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around one in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum; a tenfold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Research shows that the increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness.
Although there is no bias between races, ethnicities or social circumstances, the CDC reports there is a gender bias. In 2014, it stated that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated one out of 42 boys and one in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
“There are so many ‘nos’ in autism . There is no known cause, no cure and no medical treatment, but what we do know is that early intervention is key to improved outcomes,” said Teresa Avery, executive director of Autism Delaware.
Most individuals with autism begin to display signs before their third birthday and the CDC has a “Learn the Signs, Act Early” website that lists key developmental milestones for children between 5 months and 5 years.
“If you have any concerns about your child not following these milestones, get them screened,” Ms. Avery said. “I cannot emphasize the importance of early detection. The youngest individual we are working with now is only 18 months.”
Depending on the specifineeds of the individual, appropriate intervention methods can range from speech language therapy to sensory integration and social skills training.
According to Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, effective treatment programs should include parents, build on the child’s interests, promote self-esteem and offer a predictable schedule.
Autism Speaks suggests effective treatment programs teach tasks as a series of simple steps, actively engage the child’s attention in highly structured activities and help include the child in a typical social environment while providing regular reinforcement of behavior.
Since many individuals with ASD face problems with social interaction, Autism Delaware provides hundreds of social activities every year including recreational opportunities, clubs, family activities and educational courses across the state.
Although there are many resources for children with ASD and their parents, things get more difficult as the children become adults and move out of the education system. Autism Delaware, in cooperation with the Delaware Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, offers a school-to-work program called Productive Opportunities for Work and Recreation, or POW&R.
“We work on job placement and have job coaches on site to teach and guide, and over time we fade out that support to allow the individual to become more self-sufficient and get fulfillment from their job,” Ms. Avery said.
Due to the wide array of experiences families affected by ASD have, today they will have the opportunity to discuss their experiences and concerns with their legislators.
“We don’t want to put words into anyone’s mouth because everyone is affected differently, so Thursday, between 1 and 5 p.m., families will be able to meet with their legislators to discuss issues specifito them,” Ms. Avery said.
Support for Autism Awareness Month will be seen across the area throughout the month, most notably with blue lights as part of Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue campaign.
Dover International Speedway and Dover Downs Hotel & Casino are participating so both the hotel and The Monster Monument — commonly called “Miles the Monster” — will be illuminated by blue lights every night this month.
Also in honor of the month, Autism Delaware is raising funds to improve the services they provide including awareness and advocacy. The organization is holding two fundraising walks this month; April 18 at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes and on April 25 at Fox Point State Park in Wilmington. To register for either, visit delautism.org and click on the “Annual Walk for Autism ” link.
For more information about Autism Delaware and its services, visit delautism.org.