Light It Up Blue on World Autism Awareness Day!

Yesterday was April Fool’s Day, but Autism is no laughing matter.

What is Autism? According to the National Institutes of Health, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”

Autism often locks individuals in a world of their own, but on Monday, April 2, 2012, the planet will join together to “light it up blue” today for the fifth World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). The inaugural WAAD was observed on Wednesday, April 2, 2008.

One of only three official health related United Nations Days, WAAD  “activities help to increase and develop world knowledge of the autism epidemic and impart information regarding the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism and is a day when individuals with autism are warmly welcomed and embraced in community events around the globe.”

The incidence of autism diagnosis has exploded in recent years: in 2000 1 in 150 children were diagnosed, whereas the most recent figures indicate that 1 in 88 children have received a diagnosis.

This is a 20% increase from the previously reported 1 in 110 children who received a diagnosis! More troublesome, according to noteworthy additional facts, Autism affects boys more commonly than girls — the incidence of diagnosis is now 1 in 54 boys! Previously, that number was 1 in 70.

As I have previously noted, I am personally touched by this increase in autism diagnosis:  my eight year son, Jacob, received his autism diagnosis just before his third birthday.

Since then he has made remarkable progress, most notably due to early intervention services such as Applied Behavior Analysis services provided by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). Due in large part to CARD, Jacob’s inner light now shines brightly.

He has emerged into the thoughtful and intelligent little boy he always was.

He loves to tell bad jokes, do math, learn about the life, and he even recently tried out a batting cage!

He can now overcome his obstacles with eagerness and enthusiasm.

All this — and much more — from a sweet little boy who initially only spoke in 3 to 6 word sentences, lined up items, heavily stimmed and exhibited many obsessive compulsive behaviors.

Grateful is a word that barely communicates how I feel.

Despite the many challenges he has faced, Jacob continues to inspire and impress me. I am so proud of the progress he has made, and will continue to make. It is my hope that Jacob can always exist in his ebullient essence. By all accounts, Jacob is blooming!

I remain committed to Jacob’s enduring progress and will forever be his most ardent ally. I continue to make the most of my moments with him and my younger son, Max, and celebrate his achievements every day.

And so, even if you aren’t personally affected by Autism — although the chances of that are continue to decrease while the number of diagnoses increase — I encourage you to make an effort today to learn more about autism and understand the unique individuals who share that diagnosis.