Campus group participates in Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month and the USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) is hosting a variety of events to educate the public about autism.

The events will be held at various places in Tampa, including Gaspar’s Grotto and Kaleisia Tea Lounge.

Kim Pham, one of Kaleisia’s owners, said the Tea Lounge continues to work with CARD to learn more about Autism.

“We first started working with CARD in 2007 and found the entire staff to be truly dedicated to supporting children with autism and families that have children with autism,” she said. “We’ve learned a great deal from the CARD staff and feel the community as a whole can learn more. This is why we continue to work with CARD and support their efforts regarding autism and related disorders. Autism is a broad disorder, and we are grateful for a chance to learn how to be more accepting of differences.”

CARD is a community-based program that provides information and consultation to individuals diagnosed with autism and related disabilities. It also offers instruction and coaching for families and professionals.

According to the Autism Society of America (ASA), autism is “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.”

Autism has no single known cause and there are no medical tests to diagnose it. Diagnosis is based on observations of communication, behavior and development. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it affects individuals differently and with varying degrees of severity.

According to the ASA, some symptomatic behaviors are a lack of or delay in speaking, repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms, little to no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play and persistent fixation on parts of objects.

“You can’t look at someone and say they have autism like some other disabilities,” program planner for the Division of Applied Research and Educational Support of CARD Christine Rover said.

The general consensus is that autism is caused by abnormalities in brain structure and function. Children do not outgrow autism, but it is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention are important, Rover said.

In February 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an autism prevalence report that said one in every 150 American children – and almost one in 94 boys – were living with autism. The ASA’s current estimate for the lifetime cost of caring for an autistic child ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million.

CARD began the month’s events with an Autism Community Leadership Award Reception April 2 and a free workshop April 5 titled Reading for ALL: Autism, Literacy and Learning, sponsored by the Junior League of Tampa.

On April 18, CARD’s annual fundraiser, Fiesta by the Bay, will be hosted by Gaspar’s Grotto in Ybor City. Beginning at 5:30 p.m., admission for this event is $25, payable in advance or at the door.

On April 22 at 7:30 p.m., there will be a free presentation by CARD consultant Neill Broderick called Early Signs of Autism at the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library.

On April 25 at 6:30 p.m., the Kaleisia Tea Lounge is hosting a viewing of the movie Autism is a World. Afterward, CARD will lead a discussion of the film and make information about autism available.