April is Autism Awareness Month
Monarch psychologist says awareness can prompt education, people to conduct their own research, to ask questions and to get involved
April is National Autism Awareness Month – a time to highlight discussion, dispel misconceptions and celebrate the unique abilities of individuals living with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
According to Monarch psychologist Amanda Matthews, the discussion can begin in many ways, from movies and messages from celebrity advocates to testimonials from individuals and families.
Any discussion of ASD provides an opportunity for education, Matthews said. Popular movies such as “Rain Man,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” and “Forrest Gump,” although not always completely accurate, still help to get the message out to the public about ASD and highlight unique talents and strengths of those living with the condition, Matthews said.
“Exposure to films and television programs that help to begin the discussion about the impact of the condition on individuals living with ASD, their family, friends and community can be positive,” Matthews said. “It can prompt people to conduct their own research, to ask questions and to get involved.”
As ASD continues to be a topic in popular culture, celebrities from Doug Flutie and Dan Marino to Toni Braxton and Ed Asner have discussed it, Matthews added. “These individuals span a wide range of audiences and may assist in connecting people with information.”
It does not help to sensationalize certain aspects of any condition while ignoring the facts, Matthews noted. “But I have been lucky enough to witness many individuals – of celebrity status and otherwise – who want people to realize that ASD is a condition that is lived with each day. It should not be ignored, poked fun at or patronized. Those living with ASD are individuals – our family members, our friends and our neighbors.”
ASD is both prevalent and broadly defined, which often results in misconceptions. What was previously identified as “autism” has been redefined as Autistic Spectrum Disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, reinforcing that individuals with this diagnosis are unique and may move along different points within the spectrum. Put concisely, ASD includes persistent deficits in communication and social interaction not accounted for by general developmental delays.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, and it occurs across all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
“Individuals with an ASD diagnosis may see themselves and the world from a different perspective, but having a unique viewpoint is not always negative and can be valuable and highly sought, Matthews said: “It is important to remember that many individuals who fall into this diagnostic category have made considerable contributions to the world—and will continue to do so!”
To learn more, Matthews recommends the following local resources:
- GHA Autism Supports (Albemarle/Wilmington): http://www.ghaautismsupports.org/
- TEACCH (Chapel Hill/Carrboro: https://www.teacch.com/
- Autism Speaks (Charlotte): https://www.autismspeaks.org/
- Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities TEACCH (Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC): https://www.cidd.unc.edu/
- Steps Towards Independence and Responsibility – Project STIR (Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC): https://www.cidd.unc.edu/services/default.aspx?id=74
- ABC of NC Child Development Center (Winston-Salem): http://abcofnc.org/
- The Family Infant, and Preschool Program (Morganton, providing support to families and children in Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, and McDowell counties in Western North Carolina): http://fipp.org/
- iCan House (Winton-Salem): http://www.icanhouse.org/
- Centers for Exceptional Children (Winston-Salem): http://www.thecfec.org/staff/