April is National Autism Month. National Autism Month’s purpose is to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness but to embrace a new perspective and truly accept, include and appreciate all individuals living with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Unfortunately there is no proven cause of autism, however increased awareness and early diagnosis, intervention and access to appropriate services will lead to a significantly improved adult life.
Autistic behavior may include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; and executive functioning issues, which relates to reasoning and planning; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. It is important to note that a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few. The diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is applied based on analysis of all of the behaviors and their severity.
What is most shocking is that in March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their Autism prevalence report. This report concluded that the prevalence of Autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys.
As an advocate for people with special needs and other disability groups, I am so inspired to see our culture embrace and offer images of those with Autism. Since 1 in 68 children are affected with Autism, many children will cross paths with a schoolmate on the spectrum. Sesame Street’s latest addition of the new Muppet character (the first new character introduced in ten years) Julia, and the introduction of Billy, a new Power Ranger in the new Power Ranger movie, helps children better understand and know what to expect when someone has Autism. From television shows, movies and commercials, to fashion designers mainstream culture is now embracing and showcasing people with disabilities and highlighting the positive abilities of everybody.
As with other marginalized and disenfranchised groups, we all want to be represented in every medium and walk of life. I appreciate the initiative of Sesame Street and Power Rangers in ensuring that our next generations will be more aware and accept the differences amongst us.
As more prominent characters are displayed with qualities associated with Autism, including Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax the Destroyer and The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, along with Billy the Blue Power Ranger and the Sesame Street character Julia, we are really seeing positive imagery and change in the right direction.
This new media spotlight shining on characters with Autism, combined with National Autism Month provides us with a new perspective on those living with disabilities. In our new political climate of halting funding for critical services we hope that creating a national dialogue for those with disabilities will continue to foster opportunities. We now have a forum for the nation to consider how to talk with our children about those facing daily challenges.
We must embrace this new open perspective. It is imperative, now more than ever, that financial and educational resources are not limited for those with disabilities – including Autism. We must ensure now that for future generations, those with special needs who are less independent are protected. I am thrilled to celebrate National Autism Month and hope that as a nation we bring to the forefront the serious need to continue funding research, support services and perhaps someday a cure.
Charles A. Archer, CEO, The THRIVE Network