Most Americans are now aware, however slightly, that April is Autism Awareness Month. And it's hard to miss the recent big news about the drastic increase in the number of children with autism (the rate is now at 1 in 88 children, and 1 in 54 boys, having some form of the developmental disorder). But, honestly, we have to ask ourselves how much that matters to those of us already touched by autism.
Long after April is over…long after the stories fade from the news…autism is still there. And we, as parents, family, and teachers of children with autism, are the ones truly aware of autism and the fact that diagnosis is only the first step in a life-long process.
Special awareness months and heightened attention to autism in the news are important for educating the public and motivating parents to get their children tested in case they see the potential signs of autism. But we need more than that…
Awareness months need to be followed up by “Treatment Months.” The media needs to report on autism treatments and focus on families with children who are in need of all the help they can get and not just on the heart-warming story of the high school teen with autism who plays sports and has tons of friends. Mainstream news stories rarely show the real daily challenges that a child with autism faces.
While Autism Awareness is important, it seems like the awareness is mainly focused on diagnosis. Again, that’s incredibly important and very necessary. But, the post-diagnosis landscape still feels like a barren desert for many parents. In most cases, you’re told your child has autism and then not much else. Often, after a diagnosis, parents can be so frustrated by that “now what” feeling of helplessness and fear. It’s important to be aware of autism; it’s more important to know what to do about it.
Taking into account that our children are each unique in their needs and how autism impacts their lives, it would be amazing if every doctor and therapist that makes an autism diagnosis would also provide some sort of comprehensive plan for parents and caregivers. This plan could be put together based on studies, input, and advice from the CDC, doctors, teachers/therapists, and parents. Parents facing a new autism diagnosis need guidance and support from sources they can trust.
With that in mind, if we can take all the good that comes out Autism Awareness and convert that into factual, proven therapies and treatments we will do far more good than any brief news story on the 11:00 news will ever do. And that will truly make April a happy, happy month in more ways than one.
Editor’s note: If your child has just been diagnosed with autism, read the Autism Society resource After the Diagnosis for some initial guidance.