, Salem, MA


April 19, 2014

Column: We need to focus on the individuals behind the autism statistics

April is Autism Awareness month. That means the focus on autism now shifts to the Center for Disease Control’s most recent findings that 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Multiple news outlets will discuss these new findings and conclude that it’s a shame. But this increase also means that more and more of us know someone with autism. So, many may ask, who isn’t aware of autism? Is a month dedicated to autism awareness even necessary?

My answer — absolutely.

This is not because the general public isn’t aware of autism, but rather because there is a significant lack of information and even less understanding about what it means to have autism and how to best support individuals with autism.

Many believe that we should celebrate Autism Awareness Month because 1 in 68 children are identified as having an autism spectrum disorder. I question why so much media attention and societal concern is given to an increase in the number rather than to the lack of resources to help these individuals have a fulfilling life and equal opportunities. The fact is that one child in 68 will mature into an adult with autism, and as he or she does, a bleak employment future awaits. In 2009, a national study funded by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that only 32.5 percent of young adults with autism spectrum disorders worked for pay. Research suggests that the current unemployment rate for adults with autism is between 60 percent and 85 percent. This shocking statistic has received little media attention and no public outrage.

It is certainly important to understand and acknowledge increases in the number of children identified with autism, but that shouldn’t receive more attention this April than the real issues that face these individuals. As you attend “light-it-up blue” celebrations, walks and runs for autism awareness, and other special events to commemorate the month, I urge you to also expand your knowledge and understanding of autism.

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