World Autism Awareness Day

Jordan Wittenburg and Adrienne Bohl

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, so a group of students from the Social Work Program at Union College are raising awareness for Autism. In order to do so, we are asking you to get involved and to help us raise awareness by wearing blue on April 2 and by stopping at our booth in the Dick Building to gather more information.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language, difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation, difficulty with executive functioning (which relates to reasoning and planning), narrow intense interests, and poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities. Because ASD affects each individual differently, they may exhibit few or many of these behaviors. ASD occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, while also affecting all age groups. Research has shown that an estimated 1 out of 68 children are born with ASD, and men are four times as likely to be born with ASD. Its cause is unknown, but researchers currently believe ASD is a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Research is being conducted by multiple organizations through studying brain development and functioning, genetics, and environmental factors in an attempt to find new possibilities for treatment.

Research has shown that early identification and intervention for individuals with ASD leads to significantly improved outcomes. Screenings for ASD have been implemented to an extent across the United States. However, the research shows that these screenings might not always result in referrals to professionals who can provide full evaluations to diagnose and treat ASD. Interventions for ASD are as individualized as the disorder itself. They are targeted to each individuals specific needs. Some individuals with ASD struggle with socialization and need behaviorally targeted interventions to provide them with the social skills they need to successfully interact with their peers. Others have fine motor, gross motor, or sensory input needs that are supported through physical and occupational therapy.  Also, one in three individuals with ASD are non-verbal. Because of this, it is essential to provide individuals who are unable to verbally communicate with assistive technology that gives them alternative means of communication. 

These interventions are implemented through a variety of service providers. Psychologists, counselors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and behavioral specialists provide individuals with ASD support based on their individualized needs. Also, through IDEA 2004 and (locally) NDE Rule 51, individuals with ASD are entitled to an individualized education plan (IEP) ensuring that their academic and social needs are met through special instruction.

ASD presents itself in a multitude of ways in the lives of individuals affected by it. Each individual with ASD is unique. They have their own unique personality, characteristics, and talents. A staggering statistic reports that 2 out of 3 individuals with ASD are bullied. Because of the prevalence of this disorder, there is an extreme need to become sensitive to the fact that if someone socially presents themselves differently than the norm it could very well be that this is due to a manifestation of some type of disorder (ASD or otherwise) and not an intentional faux pas.

To find out more information about ASD, current research, and how you can get involved in advocating for individuals affected by ASD check out www.autism-society.org and www.autismspeaks.org