Autism Awareness, Part One

By Charlotte Hudson, Staff Writer

Since the 1970s, the United States has recognized Autism Awareness Month. It is an opportunity for mainstream media to educate the public about autism and issues within various autistic communities, according to a statement made on the Autism Society website.

The month kicked off with World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. Last year, Autism Speaks organized a special lighting of the Empire State Building to commemorate the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day.

The focus of autism awareness has been largely centered on children and teenagers. This can be discouraging to adults with autism spectrum disorder, who often feel out of the loop.

Autism Awareness Month Logo

Autism Speaks, one of the main organizations devoted to the cause, is more dedicated to funding research into prevention, treatments and a cure for autism. Most of Autism Speaks’ awareness stories and lessons have been about helping treat autism in young children.

As for emphasizing the importance of educating people about how to guide young adults with autism, there are organizations close to home that are devoted to that very cause.

Extraordinary Ventures is an example of an organization that supports young adults with autism. Based in nearby Orange County, EV was started in 2007 by a group of parents that wanted to take part to make a difference.

“Our mission is to employ individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities,” EV Events Director Cyndi Whisnant told chapelboro.com. “We want to see them be as independent as they can, take pride in their work, have a structure- a routine, and to be active members in our community.”

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is another organization devoted to autism rights; however, it defers from the other mainstream groups in that it was founded by and for people with autism. ASAN is calling for April to be an autism acceptance month, as “a celebration of Autistic culture and community.”

Joslyn Gray, a parent of two children with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, writes about the importance of acceptance in a blog for Babble.com.

“I’m already very much aware of autism,” Gray writes. “Two of my four kids have Asperger’s Syndrome, and I’ve been living and breathing autism awareness for quite some time now. So have my husband, our two kids with ASDs, their siblings, our entire extended family, and our friends.  Awareness months are important. They remind us to take action… But I’m not sure I need my community to take personal action, as much as I’d like people to just accept my kids the way they are.”

Guilford’s Disabilities Department in the Learning Commons is doing its part in observing Autism Awareness Month for the second year. Guilford College is unique in that at least 100 enrolled students are on the spectrum.

Disabilities Services Coordinator, Kim Burke, believes it is important to continue to educate others about autism issues and spread awareness about not just autism, but neuro-diversity as well.

“There needs to be an institutional commitment (to educating about autism and other disabilities),” Burke said. “We need to look at accessibility in a (broader sense)… accessibility with information, technology, procedures and the attitude (of people with disabilities) in academia.”

Over the last decade, research and information about autism and other disorders have increased in visibility, with TV shows such as Bones, Parenthood and Numbers all featuring feature characters on the spectrum.

Social media has also had a profound effect on how information is shared and discussed.  Guilford’s own Disabilities Department has their own Facebook page to inform people about issues and topics related to neuro-diversity (including people with autism).

In observance, the Disability Department will be showing OC87, a documentary about the tribulations and quest for belonging of a man with numerous disorders applied to him, including Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.  The details of that event will be released soon.

Check back on Friday April 26th for the second installment of Charlotte’s piece in which she addresses the acceptance vs. cure debate.  

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