Around 1 in 54 children in the United States are diagnosed with a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD. ASD is a disorder where the brain does not develop fully or “normally,” beginning early in childhood and lasting throughout one’s life. While the causes for autism have not yet been verified, genetics and childhood environment are identified as leading possible ones.
Whether or not you notice, many students even within the Memorial community have autism. These range from students that sit by you in class to students that require adult assistance or special education. This is because autism is a spectrum disorder, and varies across a wide range of symptoms and characteristics. From difficulty in social interaction to intense repetitive behavior to even learning disabilities, autism affects each person uniquely.
The characteristics and effects of autism are part of my daily life – my brother has intense ASD. He is unable to speak and only understands a few sentences. He will never be independent, and he lives at home with my family. However, he gets by very well. He works part time jobs through local programs such as Madison Area Rehabilitation Centers (MARC) and Advanced Employment (AE), helps out with errands and cooperates as much as he can, and is always a joy to be around. His face always beams with smiles, and he’s extremely mellow. Of course, there are frustrations and challenges that are involved when living with a person with autism. My brother has unbreakable OCD; he develops and sticks to routines for nearly everything, whether it be folding his clothes, organizing the desk, or checking the pages of the calendar. This has caused quite a few incidents in and outside home when we needed flexibility but he could not give it, not due to any faults of his, but simply because he has autism of quite serious degree. Moreover, autism incurs serious medical expenses – medications for OCD, sleep, and mental health overall are costly, easily reaching $300 a month. When a person with ASD needs multiple medications, their family can become greatly financially burdened, especially if that person is unable to work themselves or if their family cannot afford health insurance.
April is Autism Awareness Month. While schools are improving at teaching about autism, the struggles and challenges that those with autism and those who have family members with autism face are underrepresented and not well understood. While government policy and healthcare changes to better benefit families and individuals with autism are far from the foreseeable future, we as people can begin to implement changes by being understanding and welcoming. We can not leave behind those that are struggling to understand themselves or people that might be physically incapable of forging through the world as others might. Take not only this month, but every month, every day, to immerse yourself in understanding. Notice the signs of ASD. Empathize with people that may have ASD. And most importantly of all, lend out a hand to those who are in desperate need of one, because it is the stories of those who may not be able to speak that must be told.
By Jessica Jiang