There are many campaigns raising awareness for autism that go unnoticed. VH1 launched a campaign titled “Rock Autism,” which was introduced in April 2007. The Ad Council also runs its “Autism Speaks” campaign.
Perhaps the lack of interest stems from not having firsthand experience with the disability. The effects don’t necessarily hit home for many.
I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
I work part time at my local YMCA as a nursery attendant who supervises children while their parents tend to their workouts.
A couple recently signed up as members and dropped their child off at the nursery. I requested the parents’ membership ID cards and asked them simple questions, such as where they would be within the facility in case of an emergency. Shortly after, I allowed their child to enter the play area.
Once the parents left, the 7-year-old boy remained in the corner near the door, staring at the floor. He made no motions, except fiddling his fingers erratically and occasionally tapping on the door. When he spoke, it was in a very slurred, insecure tone.
Another attendant and I made several attempts to engage the boy in playing with toys. He looked up and around both our faces but never into our eyes.
Finally, my co-worker and I succeeded in getting the child interested in a puzzle. We observed as he tried to place each corresponding piece on the board. When he realized he was not able to, he slid all the pieces onto the floor.
I had never been confronted with a situation in which I was not sure how to deal with a child. It was extremely difficult for me, and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for the child to face this lifestyle everyday.
Awareness of this disability is crucial. Many children are blamed for bad behavior and the possibility of autism is often overlooked. According to austismspeaks.org, one in 150 children is diagnosed with autism, “making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.”
This developmental disorder impairs children’s social interaction, makes it difficult for them to communicate and often includes very limited interests or repetitive behaviors, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Looking through or around a person, like the child did at the YMCA, is a common sign of autism, the organization’s Web site states. So is the child’s withdrawal from the rest of the group.
Some may ignore it — or remain ignorant of it — but if one looks around, autism is everywhere. It has even made its way into this year’s election. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have both addressed autism in their campaigns with Support Americans with Autism and Combating Autism in America, respectively.
Obama has stated on his campaign Web site that he seeks to increase federal Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) funding for research, treatment, screenings, and public awareness and support services to $1 billion annually by the end of his first term in office. He has also said he will continue to work with parents, physicians, providers, researchers and schools to create opportunities and effective solutions for people with ASD.
McCain endorses the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which he cosponsored. This law, according to his campaign Web site, helps increase public awareness and screening of ASD by promoting the use of evidence-based interventions and creating Centers of Excellence for ASD Research and Epidemiology.
Including this issue at such a critical time in politics will shed light on a disability that is often forgotten.
It is imperative that everyone be at least relatively knowledgeable about issues such as autism, especially if they affect this country’s youth in such a negative manner. I urge readers to learn more about autism and the disadvantages of experiencing it. Spread the word in the hope that others will do the same. Change results from a multitude of voices.
Rebekah Rosado is a junior double majoring in sociology and mass communications.