The United Nations adopted April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day to promote education of the disorder.

Ask any random person on the street, and they will probably know that autism exists. What they might not know is what it actually means to have the disorder. Filling that education gap is one of the many reasons Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks lobbied the United Nations to designated April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day.

“We want to help people understand what it’s like to live with autism,” said Christina Carty, Greater Delaware Valley Regional Walk director for Autism Speaks. “We try to get them to walk in someone else’s shoes and realize it’s great to be different.”

With the support of the Republic of Qatar, Autism Speaks convinced the UN to adopt today as World Autism Awareness Day four years ago to properly begin April as Autism Month. Coupled by an aggressive campaign from the Ad Council, Carty says the education is working.

“The Ad Council dedicated hundred of millions of dollars during our contract,” she said. “The difference in increased knowledge between pre-campaign tests and post-campaign tests made it their second-most successful health-related campaign ever.”

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) include autism, Asperger syndrome and pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). They are disorders in neural development that manifest as impaired social interaction and communication. Symptoms of ASD can now be detected before the age of three, and pediatricians are trained to look for signs, such as language deficiencies or inability to maintain eye contact.

ASD affects 1 in 110 or nearly one percent of all American children. According to the 2005 PA State Autism Census, about 25,000 Pennsylvanians will have ASD, 80% being male. Bucks County has the fifth highest population of individuals with ASD in the state. The census also estimates that more than 10,000 adults will have ASD in 2015, climbing to nearly 20,000 by 2020.

The reason for the rising numbers can be explained, said Carty, by the increase in the occurrences of the actual disorder, and the increase of diagnoses. Doctors today have a stronger grasp of the symptoms than before, compared to the past when people showing signs would be dismissed as merely “weird” or “uncooperative.”

“That’s one of the big questions regarding the rise of autism,” said Carty. “Doctors are doing such a better job diagnosing by asking the right questions during examinations.”

The debate over the causes of ASD also rages on. The science community continues to look at genetic traits and deficiencies to pinpoint the causes. However, a controversy has formed around the chemicals used in early childhood vaccinations. In one case, many parents believe the use of the compound in thimerosal in vaccines has caused the disorder. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics asked vaccine makers to remove the compound, causing the accusations. The continued rise in ASD after the compound’s removal suggests there is no connection, and there is currently no scientific evidence to support the link.

In England, a 1998 paper that appeared in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, published a study that showed a link in MMR vaccinations and autism. In 2011, the British Medical Journal demonstrated how the study’s author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified the data and misreported results in the paper. The CDC and the Institute of Medicine have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

“Autism Speaks trusts the science,” said Carty. “The evidence shows no link in vaccines and autism. But we also can’t ignore all of the parents that come to us and talk about how they children changed right after receiving the shot.”

Autism Speaks dedicates funds toward research of ASD and its causes, but Carty believes it’s just as important to encourage acceptance of the people who already have the disorder.


“It is so easy to ignore or compartmentalize them,” she said, “because people might think someone with ASD wouldn’t even notice. But people on the high-functioning side of the spectrum, such as Asperger’s, are very aware of what their peers think of them. People with ASD are highly intelligent; some are very talented artists. If we empower others to accept them, they can help people with ASD feel good about themselves.”

Posting this for my dd who is 7 and severely autistic and all the others out there. April is national autism awarness month. Even if you are not affected by this I bet you know someone who is. 

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