The first World Autism Awareness Day was held at the Russellville City-County Park on Wednesday, April 2nd. This special day was held in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month. “Light it Up Blue” was the theme, and over 50 supporters came out that day to share a message and support those with autism. Blue balloons were released into the sky representing a child in the community with autism and someone who loves them. It was a great day and a great start to an event that is hoping to be held for years to come.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a persons lifetime. At this point, no known cure has been found and cause is simply speculation.
Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.
The statistics staggering and are growing.
ASD affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.
We know that autism acceptance is something many in the autism community are also advocating for. Knowledge is power and bringing that knowledge to communities where those who have autism live, can make a world of difference in their lives and the lives of their loved ones. This is why April Haley- a mother of three boys, two with autism- spends her time trying to change perception, while offering understanding.
Haley and many others organized Wednesday’s event at the park, hoping others who have children with autism would come out and see the support they have, while bringing about awareness.
April and her husband Michael’s first child Caleb, 7, was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old. Their second son Avery, 8, was diagnosed at two and their third son, Bradleigh, 6, does not show any signs of the disorder.
At first, like any parent, it was a hard imagine when finding out their first child had autism and then their second, however, since becoming self-educated on autism, it has opened up a whole new world for the family, and living a happy life is something that is definitely obtainable.
“It is difficult at times, of course, like raising any child, but I want families who have children with autism to know it’s not you are not alone. There are many, many families out there who are going through the same things, but you can overcome a lot of obstacles. There is help out here and there is also support,” says Haley.
Haley’s mission is to be an advocate for not only her sons, but other children with autism. Awareness is key in helping those who have autism, said Haley.
“I wanted someone to tell me it wasn’t a death sentence for my child and that you can lead a healthy and happy life. It may be difficult at times, but that’s alright, it can still be a good life,” said Haley.
Haley’s friend Melissa Campbell doesn’t have any children with autism, however, she feels very passionate about acceptance for all children who may be a little different. This is why she helped Haley organize the event at the park and why she spends time helping to bring about autism awareness.
“I work in the school system and I want to promote all individuals. We need to celebrate difference and we need to promote acceptance. I hope to reach more citizens in our community, and bring acceptance to these awesome kiddos,” said Campbell.
Both women want to thank all those who came out to volunteer Wednesday tying balloons, making posters, bringing food, and awareness ribbons. They say it was greatly appreciated. They also wish to offer support for those who are out there in the community and feel they are alone. Talking to someone who experiences autism day-to-day is very helpful.
If anyone wishes to contact Haley or Campbell for more information orsupport, you can call Chris Cooper at the News-Democrat & Leader 270-726-8394 and she can put you in contact with the two.