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.

Time flies!

On March 20, 1996 I completed my last undergraduate class at UC Santa Barbara. Notably, I finished a quarter early — thanks to a handful of advanced placement courses in high school (and by petitioning to have some classes count for several requirements — strategy!).

UC Santa Barbara: 1109 North Hall

My last class was English 40, English Literature 1800 to 1900, with Eloise Knapp Hay. Sadly, this was her last class as well: she passed away a few weeks later on April 30, 1996 of inoperable brain cancer.

None of us knew she was sick nor would we have believed it had she told us. Incidentally, the author of her obituaryFrank McConnell — another teacher I had at UCSB — died three years after her. In class we mainly studied the works of romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and William Blake — in whose honor I launched “William Blake: Cybersongs of Innocence.”

It was also the last class for another student: we completed our final exams at the same time and we lingered in the hallway just outside of the classroom. I had a large brownie and, perhaps in an act of poetic preparation, she had a small bottle of champagne.

browniesWe celebrated our achievement in a platonic way befitting the class. We shared the brownie and champagne while reminiscing about our undergraduate experiences and discussing our post-graduation plans. It was a bohemian way to finish our romantic poetry class and our undergraduate college experience.

This date is also bittersweet because, while it marks a positive milestone, it also signifies my first step towards a time in my life that was often wrought with challenges and obstacles.

Thankfully, as a result of ongoing introspection and guidance from friends and colleagues, I am now aligned with my purpose in life: educationI am grateful for the opportunities I have been presented by institutions at which I am now teaching, have taught, or one day will teach.  Each one gives me a unique perspective on teaching and allows me to work with exceptional students with bright futures.

Most importantly each one also allows me to continue learning. And so, despite my mixed feelings about the years after I graduated, I look forward to the coming years with hope and optimism.

So, I’ve got a brownie — who has the champagne?