“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of that village.” – Elaine Hall
World Autism Day – Light It Up Blue
Happy April, everyone! Spring has finally sprung and I couldn’t be happier about it. A new month means new awareness observances and awareness holidays. April has a lot of important awareness observances. Choosing which causes to discuss can be difficult when so many causes are worthy topics. To be comprehensive and educational, I have chosen to focus on one subject per post. As the years go on, every month will feature different causes than the year before. Over time each cause will get the attention it deserves.
Today I want to talk about Autism, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, World Autism Awareness Day & Light It Up Blue. Both holidays take place tomorrow (April 2nd). Before we get started, I want to give you guys a little background on World Autism Awareness Day and Light It Up Blue.
The History of World Autism Awareness Day.
In 2007, the United Nations voted to make April 2nd a universal day to promote awareness for Autism. In 2008, the first annual World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated. The United Nations dedicates itself to ensuring that the human rights of all people are honored. It is important for the UN to recognize Autism because it can affect learning, development, and communication. If a person with Autism has difficulty with any or all of those functions, it will impact the freedom and equality they receive.
Various therapies are used to treat Autism. The outcome is influenced by how soon the treatment is started. Access to Autism therapies can be determined by location and socio-economic status. This creates inequality for people with Autism living in places without access, or those without means. The United Nations dedicates itself to combatting inequality through policy and resources. Their goal is to create a world where someone with Autism has equal rights regardless of their limitations.
What does Light It Up Blue mean?
World Autism Awareness Day and Light It Up Blue are designed to raise awareness for ASD (autism spectrum disorders). This includes Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD – NOS). Light It Up Blue is an annual campaign held on World Autism Awareness Day. It uses the color blue to spread the message of awareness and acceptance worldwide. Every April 2nd, iconic landmarks around the world are lit up with blue lights to signify support for the Autism community.
Light It Up Blue is sponsored by an organization called Autism Speaks. The chairman of General Electric founded Autism Speaks in 2005. He and his wife founded the organization after their grandson was diagnosed with Autism. That connection may have been the inspiration behind the campaign. General Electric’s most iconic product is the light bulb. LIUB uses blue light bulbs to turn structures and buildings blue. Coincidence? I doubt it.
ASD. What Does Being On The Spectrum Mean?
First, let's talk about what being "on the spectrum" means. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), has a wide range of symptoms. Someone with Autism may experience any, all, or a combination of these symptoms to varying degrees. Combinations of symptoms and the severity of those symptoms can vary drastically from patient to patient. Autism is referred to as a spectrum because of the wide range of symptoms. No two patients are exactly the same.
The Basics of Autism.
Autism is a neurobehavioral condition. It can affect development, communication skills, sensory processing, social skills, and more. Each person on the spectrum may exhibit different combinations of symptoms with varying degrees of severity. The severity of the symptoms affects what kind of limitations they experience.
Autism typically becomes apparent as children fail to reach developmental milestones. These occur during the first three years of their life. Some children can begin to shows signs as infants, but most symptoms become clear between 18 to 36 months old. Parents commonly describe their child as developing normally until around that time. Then they began to exhibit symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms may not arise until circumstances force them to the surface. This means that symptoms may go unnoticed until later than usual when a particular situation makes them appear.
People with Autism tend to have a difficult time processing different kinds of sensory stimulation. This may manifest as sensitivity to light, sound, touch, or smell. It can range from feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable to complete intolerance.
Autistic people may also experience some degree of cognitive impairment. This is in comparison to neuro-typical cognitive function. People with Autism tend to have delays or deficits in certain areas of development but not all. Cognitive impairment usually affects all areas, but people with Autism tend to show issues in only some areas. In contrast to their impairment, they may develop exceptional skills in other areas. This can show up as musical talent, memorization skills, an aptitude for math, and more.
Autism can also affect behavior. One behavior associated with Autism is repetitive movement, like rocking or pacing. In some cases, these repetitive movements can be self-injurious. They may develop attachments to certain objects. Narrow interests and obsessions with certain subjects are common. They may also be fearful or resistant to change. Change in routine can be especially difficult. Many parents of ASD children bond over their shared experiences with trying to get their child to try new foods or activities.
What Causes Autism?
While Autism is on the rise, it is not clear why. It may be from an increase in awareness or it may be that the incidence of the disorder is actually increasing. Autism is not caused by race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, lifestyle, geographic location, sex, or any other classification. Boys are more likely to develop Autism than girls. Some speculate that this is because girls with Autism are not diagnosed even though they may have it. It is believed that there are more girls with Autism than the statistics suggest. Socio-economic status does not cause Autism, but it can affect treatment and prognosis. The earlier someone with Autism begins treatment, the better the long-term outcome. A family’s inability to pay for such treatments may have a lasting effect on an Autistic person. Geographic location can be a factor if the family lives in remote or rural areas. Treatment facilities may be scarce or non-existent in less populated areas.
Autism appears to have a genetic component. It tends to run in families, although no specific genes have been identified yet. Researchers believe it may have something to do with irregular segments of genetic code or specific gene mutations. Whatever the genetic association is, it's clear that it can run in families. Another genetic factor is the age of the parents. The older the parents are, the higher the risk for the child.
What Are the Treatment Options Available for ASD?
Treatment options vary depending on the symptoms. There is a spectrum of treatment options to match the spectrum of symptoms. Treatments include behavioral and communications therapies, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy. There are also medications to treat associated symptoms. Keep in mind there is no cure for Autism, and there are no medications developed specifically to treat it. Let’s dig into each of these therapy options a little.
There are quite a few behaviors and communication treatments when it comes to ASD. Each treatment uses different techniques to engage with the child and encourage learning. The type of therapy depends on which works best for that child. One of the most common is called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA works to improve good behaviors and reduce bad ones using various techniques. This includes positive reinforcement, motivation, and communication skill development.
Another type of behavior and communication therapy is referred to as “Floor-time”. Floor-time is exactly what it sounds like. It involves getting on the floor with your child to interact with them doing the things they like. The intention is to build and encourage emotional skills, which stimulate intellectual growth.
There are two types of treatments that involve visual cues. The first is called TEACCH, which stands for Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children. The second is called PECS, which stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. The difference between the two is that TEACCH uses picture cards to teach, while PECS uses symbols.
Occupational therapy teaches children with ASD life skills. Occupational therapy helps them develop, maintain, or restore independence through skill development. These skills allow them to overcome obstacles that keep them from performing daily activities.
Sensory Integration Therapy helps children whose symptoms include sensory processing issues. Sensory Integration Therapy works by taking stimuli that a child is sensitive to and slowly exposing them to it in a controlled setting. Over time the child will acclimate to these stimuli so that they can function better.
Last, but not least, there are some medications that are used to help treat different kinds of issues that people with Autism can experience. There is a link between Autism and seizure disorders. One of the medications used to treat people with Autism and seizures is seizure medication. Other issues associated with Autism are trouble concentrating, depression and anxiety, and insomnia. These symptoms can be treated using medications. Risperdal has been FDA approved to treat irritability in people with Autism.
How Can I Help?
The biggest thing you can do to help those with Autism is to be supportive and understanding. Sometimes when kids with Autism get overwhelmed they have what is called a "meltdown". It's important to understand that children having a meltdown are suffering, not misbehaving. It is equally important to recognize that this is not related to a parenting issue. Parents often feel judged when their kids experience a meltdown in public. The root issue is a lack of understanding and awareness, not a shortcoming on the part of the parents or the child. People are quick to say, "if that were my kid…" followed by how they would handle the situation. It is unfair to the people involved and it perpetuates the judgment they experience.
Another way you can help is by educating yourself and others about Autism. Become an advocate for people affected by Autism with a universal symbol of support. Awareness ribbons are a simple yet powerful way to raise awareness. Awareness nurtures support, and support leads to more fundraising and more research. The awareness ribbon used to raise awareness for Autism is the puzzle pieces ribbon.
You can also help raise money by holding your own fundraiser. Donate the proceeds to the Autism organization of your choice. April 2nd is the perfect day to host a blue-themed bake sale to celebrate Light It Up Blue. If bake sales aren’t your thing, you can host a craft booth with old puzzle pieces. Paint the pieces white, grab some colorful sharpies and charge per puzzle piece. Crafts not really your thing either? No problem. Here's an easy one I came up with; Find a wall, make a blue backdrop for it, grab some blue accessories and boom! You've got yourself a Light It Up Blue themed photo-booth. Charge per photo, and don't forget to share it on social media using the hashtag #LIUB. If you prefer something more traditional, buy some puzzle pieces fabric awareness ribbons in bulk and resell them at a higher cost. Take the profits and donate them to the organization of your choice.
That’s all for today! Thanks so much for reading! Be sure to check back soon for my next post. And, HAPPY AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH!