April is Autism Awareness Month
Autism spectrum disorder is a development disability that affects individuals differently and at various degrees. Josh and Marlie Tepait, whose 4-year old son has ASD, said it would be helpful if everyone understood that symptoms and degree vary.
“It is a spectrum disorder that presents itself differently for every person,” Marlie said. “For example, some are non-verbal while some are high functioning and you might not even realize they have it.”
According to the Autism Society some of the behaviors common to autism are:
- Does not babble or coo by 12 months
- Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
- Delayed language skills
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Difficulty with conversation
- Difficulty with reasoning and planning
- Poor motor skills
- Sensory sensitivities
- Lack of make-believe play
An individual on the spectrum could show only a few of these behaviors or many and because symptoms vary so widely, a child showing these behaviors should be evaluated. There is no known cause of autism but signs usually appear in early childhood.
In 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that instances of autism in the U.S. are currently at one in 68 births. In 2004, the rate was one in 125 births.
The good news is that ASD is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” it, but early intervention often leads to improved outcomes.
Autism affects the whole family. The child with autism must be the parents’ primary focus which can put stress on their marriage, siblings, work, finances, personal relationships and other responsibilities.
Marlie said that the number of appointments to get their son to is one of the most challenging issues.
“There is speech, OT, PT, ABA, ARD meetings at school on top of regular pediatric and dentist appointments,” Marlie said. Up until recently we had one to two appointments Monday-Friday after a full day of either school or ABA.”
She said, though, that seeing progress in their son as a result of these appointments is a huge reward.
“It’s great to see the appointments pay off,” Marlie said. “For example, our son struggles with conversational speaking, so the first time that we asked if he liked something and he responded, ‘Yeah, that is so cool,’ we almost fell over!”
There are also small but rewarding victories for parents who work so hard to see that their child with autism has every possible advantage.
“Anytime he learns something new we party,” Marlie said. “When he tries a new food it is a huge success and potty training is also a big one. Something that most parents wouldn’t think twice about is eye contact. If we call to him, usually he does not look at us or just gives us a brief glance. He’s now beginning to look at us for longer periods of time when we speak to him.”
All these seemingly little successes are things that he has worked really worked at and involved effort on the part of his parents as well as his teachers and therapists.
Autism awareness month is great for helping to educate the public but Marlie feels that schools should work harder toward inclusion.
Community inclusion, though, will only be accomplished when individuals with autism are participating in the community and accepted by other community members. Individuals with ASD will have to learn how the community works and learn to accept new things and people. In turn, the community must become accustomed to people with autism. It will not be fast or easy, but once inclusion is accomplished, it will be rewarding for both groups.