The first piece I ever wrote for The Evening Sun, months before I actually worked for the paper, was an article on autism which appeared on the now-defunct family page. The timing of that piece was perfect, Iíd thought, because it fell at the beginning of Autism Awareness month.
Itís hard for me to believe that a year has actually gone by since then. But World Autism Awareness Day, recognized by the United Nations as April 2, is upon us once more.
The day will be marked around the world with fundraisers and events sponsored by the thousands of organizations dedicated to increase awareness and fund research of autism spectrum disorders, which affect an estimated 67 million people worldwide.
Until about a year and a half ago, I knew next to nothing about autism. Like everyone else, Iíd seen Rain Man and that Bruce Willis movie about the little boy who cracks a secret government code. I thought I knew what autism was. I had no idea how wrong I was until I reconnected with two of my friends from college, Kristen and Sean. Their little boy had been diagnosed with something called Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
With Kristenís guidance and encouragement, I began to learn more about autism. And what I found was startling. Did you know autism is more prevalent in our society than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined?
In the United States alone, the numbers are staggering. According to figures published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007, one in every 150 children is diagnosed with autism. It is even more prevalent in boys, who are four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed as autistic.
Despite those numbers, much about autism remains a mystery. While there are plenty of theories, there is still no known cause, no cure, no means of prevention and no single, fully-effective treatment.
In recent years, awareness has grown thanks to the efforts of parents of autistic children (like Kristen and Sean) and the work of organizations like Autism Speaks, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to increasing awareness and funding research. Additional attention has come from celebrities like Sylvester Stallone, Jenny McCarthy, Dan Marino and Doug Flutie Ė all of whom have children with autism.
I received an email from Kristen & Seanís six year old son this morning with a message from Autism Speaks about World Autism Awareness Day. It said, ďItís a time to shine a light on autism, to awaken public understanding of the crisis, and to accelerate support for research and services.Ē