By Barbara Gobbi
This April, millions of people will recognize Autism Awareness Month. This complex neurological developmental disorder affects language and communication, social interaction, motor skills, obsessive tendencies, and repetitive actions such as pacing, hand-flapping or rocking, known as “stimming”. Individuals with autism also have sensory issues and are very sensitive to sound, light, smell, taste, and touch.
Since the 1970s, when Autism Awareness Month first began, the number of children diagnosed with autism has grown from one in every 2,000 children to one in 54. Many ask, “Is autism on the rise or are the diagnoses changing?”
Parents, advocates and physicians debate the possible contributing factors from genetics, environmental, vaccinations and diet. As a parent of a child with autism, my focus has been to help him to learn and grow to the best of his ability so that he can find his way in the world.
It’s been 10 years since our son was diagnosed with autism and research and resources have come such a long way. When he was first diagnosed, our insurance didn’t cover any type of physical, occupational, or behavioral therapy, and access to therapy was scarce. After our son’s diagnosis, we put him in intense therapy with up to 12 sessions per week, all paid out of pocket, and the closest facility to us was in Plantation. Today there is an abundance of therapy and resources available to our family.
Our son now attends Atlantis Academy Coral Springs, which caters to his unique academic, social and emotional needs. Atlantis Academy enrolls students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, and their L.I.F.E. program supports young adults over the age of 18 and provides skills for independent living at home and in the workplace.
Many people ask us what we think our son’s future will hold. Will he go to college, get a good job, get married and have children? As parents, we can’t predict what the future will look like, any more than we can for our neuro-typical children, so we focus on preparing them to be independent adults and reach their full potential. As a mom, I just want what any parent wants; for them to be happy and healthy.
To mark Autism Awareness Month, Autism Speaks launched the “Light It Up Blue” campaign. This initiative to bring international awareness of autism asks people and businesses to turn the lights in their homes and buildings blue. From the Sydney Opera House in Australia to the Empire State Building in New York, thousands of businesses will Light It Up Blue. The goal is to spread kindness, understanding and acceptance for people with autism.
This year and every year, our family will “Light It Up Blue” by swapping out our light bulb on our front porch to a blue light found at Home Depot. Won’t you join us?