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April 2011: National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month. Since the 1970s, the Autism Society has been using the observance as an opportunity to educate the public about autism and issues concerning the autism community.

The term ‘autism’ is familiar to many, but the specifics of the disorder are not widely understood in the general public. Autism encompasses a spectrum of developmental disabilities that range from mild to severe. Problems with social communication is a symptom most widely shared by those with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The spectrum includes “classic” autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD).

Autism symptoms fall into three main categories: social skills, language, and behavior. A person with autism may not respond to his or her name, may resist physical affection, and appear to be insensitive to others’ feelings. Language problems for those with ASDs manifest initially as developmental delays and later, with the inability to start or maintain a conversation. A person with autism may speak with an abnormal rhythm or tone. Behavior issues include intense sensitivity to light, sound, and touch; performance of repetitive movements like rocking or spinning; and development of rituals and strict routines.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a child may require testing for autism if he or she “doesn’t babble or coo by 12 months; doesn’t gesture--such as point and wave--by 12 months; doesn’t say single words by 16 months; doesn’t say two-word phrases by 24 months; or loses previously acquired language or social skills at any age.”

A medical ID bracelet or other medical alert jewelry is recommended for people living with autism. It is common for people with autism to wander and get lost. In this situation, a person with autism may not be able to communicate their need for help. With medical ID bracelets or a medical alert necklace, a loved one with autism can get help to find their way home. Medical ID jewelry will also be useful to explain to others unusual behavior that may be exhibited as a symptom of autism.

One way the Autism Society suggests that people get involved in National Autism Awareness Month is by contacting their state and federal Representatives through the “Vote 4 Autism” advocacy campaign. There are also many events taking place through local chapters of the Autism Society.
The advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, is also a source for information on Autism Awareness Month.

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