April has been designated as National Autism Awareness Month but, with the recent report from the Centers For Disease Control that every 1 in 88 kids is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), spotlighting this disability one month out of the year is certainly not enough.

Here are the new statistics:

  • The diagnosis of an ASD has risen by 78% in the past decade. That’s not to say that there’s been a dramatic increase in ASD but probably better diagnosis.
  • For boys, the rate of an ASD diagnosis is 1 in 54 – almost 5 times higher than in girls
  • More children are being diagnosed at an earlier age (3), but still most are being diagnosed at 4 or 5 years of age.  Early diagnosis is critical.

While my son doesn’t “officially” have a diagnosis of ASD, he has special needs and, in my opinion, the label doesn’t matter because his disability is quite similar.

As many of my readers know, I’m pretty much of an open book.  I talk about all the issues and challenges that I deal with because it is my hope that I can help someone else not feel as isolated or even share some insight.  I realize this isn’t true for many parents with special needs children.  For many reasons they wish to remain private and I understand that.  Unfortunately too often our kids are still labeled, judged and discriminated against.

That needs to change.

Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately.  This population of ASD kids is going to grow up and need to become productive members of our society.  They will want to go on to college, work, drive, live independently, have personal relationships, get married and have kids.  I know that I want that for my son and he wants it for himself.  Not too much to ask in my opinion.

In order for this to happen though, neuro-typical peers need to start gaining a better understanding for what it means to have ASD or some other disability.  I’m so proud of the Top inclusion program at Wilton High School.  For those of you not aware of this program, it was started by a few high school students who recognized the importance of helping every student feel included.  Their mission statement is simple: “To encourage students to work together to promote the inclusion of all students in our school and community.”  Participants team up with special needs kids as buddies to support them both during school and at after school activities.  This has also led into another great program, TOP Soccer, which works under the same principal.

These types of programs need to happen all over the country and the stigma of ASD and other special needs must be eliminated.  Both adults and children need to become more aware of the characteristics of ASD and how they affect someone socially.  I’ve felt the pain as kids, not understanding my son’s special needs, laugh at him behind his back.  As our kids grow up, these challenges will become even greater.  Imagine how frustrating it must be to be turned down for a job because, even if you’re qualified, you’re unable to effectively manage a job interview?  Think about trying to navigate through ordinary tasks such as grocery shopping or asking for directions when interacting with people is difficult.

This is not an issue that will only affect a few families, this is now an issue for our society.  How will we embrace these special needs young adults and allow them to have the same opportunities that everyone else has to lead a happy and productive life?

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