April 2nd was 'Autism Awareness Day'. In fact, the entire month of April is dedicated to autism awareness, but as I sit here and write this letter, I wonder how many people are reallyaware of autism.
Sure, we all do our part. Some of us simply "Light It Up Blue"on social media, others may donate to the cause or run a race. Major cities around the world even light their iconic buildings blue. However, I still have to ask the question, "how many people are really aware of autism?"
The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, about 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD.) Most of us have heard this horrifying statistic and understand that autism has, in fact, been labeled an epidemic. But how many of us know what it is like to look autism in the face every single day? How many of us are a child on the spectrum? A sibling of autism? A parent or guardian of autism?
Having a child with autism is an emotional, physical, and financial feat. Did you know?
- Studies show that 80% of marriages where there is a child of autism end in divorce. Whether or not this is a myth or reality, parents of special needs children are overwhelmed all the time and may neglect their partners.
- Families with autistic children generally earn 28% less than families with non-autistic children. Many parents choose to quit their job and stay home to care for their autistic child, leaving one parent responsible for supporting the entire family.
- Specialty schools, tutors, and teachers can cost families several hundred dollars per month-or thousands per year.
- Health insurance has not caught up with the times. Unfortunately, many health insurance plans exclude treatment for autism or outright refuse to cover behavioral-related therapy because it is considered "educational" rather than medical.
- Siblings of children with autism are also more likely to have problems with interpersonal relationships, psychopathological functioning, functioning at school, and use of leisure time (source: Pediatrics, July 2013.)
Within the next 10 years, more than 500,000 children diagnosed with autism will enter adulthood. Parents of autism constantly worry about what the future holds for their children as they "age out" and are expected to enter the real world.
The most frightening numbers I have come across? At the rate of autism increasing based on real statistics around the world, the incidence could be as high as 1 in every 2 boys by the year 2032.
People tend to be afraid of what they don't understand. Awareness has the power to change people's attitudes. I encourage you to share your story and to invite your community to take a walk in your shoes, so that they can better understand what living with autism REALLY means.