|He's more than just a statistic - he's my angel.|
His is just one of the faces representing the 1 in 88
children in the US on the autism spectrum.
Let those numbers sink in. 1 in 88 children. 1 in 54 boys.
That means that the probability that any one child in our country is autistic is approximately 1%. The probability that a boy is autistic is approaching 2%.
Let me say this, that means that nearly everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - knows someone who is autistic or who has a child or another close relative with autism.
Those numbers are very, very frightening.
To the naysayers who might claim that those numbers are exaggerated, I'd point to studies coming out of South Korea where every child was tested for autism and the actual prevalence there was shown to be 1 in 38. I would also say that every person on the spectrum - and I mean everyone, regardless of their level of functioning - struggles in some way or another daily, whether it manifests more subtly in trying to regulate a sensory system that seems out of control or in navigating social complexities, or more noticeable symptoms such as frequent self-stimulatory behaviors and difficulty with the basic tasks of communication, self-care, and mobility.
My child needs a great amount of assistance with daily living, learning, safety awareness, and communication. Others may not. Some may need assistance with just one particular area, and some, like Jack, have multiple therapeutic needs. Regardless of where someone falls on the spectrum, they all need support.
While I don't like to use statistics to frighten people, my hope would be that these figures would serve as a call to action for our country to get serious about addressing what can only be acknowledged as an autism epidemic. I believe that Autism Speaks put it well when they suggested that we needed to commit to research on many different aspects of the causes of autism, work towards developing better medicines and treatments for individuals with autism, and expanding support systems to serve the growing population of autistic adults as they age out of the public educational system.
Better yet, I believe the commitment to lowering the age of diagnosis to 18 months for all children, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background, is critical to addressing this epidemic and meeting the challenges head on with early intervention.
And still, once those children have been diagnosed, what are we to do? I would like to see state services waiting lists unlocked and increases to state budgets for the care of the developmentally disabled. I would also like to see nationwide insurance mandates to cover autism treatments and therapies. Insurance companies refuse to cover treatments otherwise. States budgets are strapped and only provide the bare minimum. School systems are flooded with children who need services. Parents have to constantly fight for what their children need instead of putting energy into their kids. Instead of the constant banter between politicians over rather petty social issues (some of the recent abortion and immigration debates and Sunday alcohol sales come to mind), we should focus energy on areas that will make a difference.
These aren't just issues that can be debated. These are children's lives. And yes, something that affects 1 in 88 children absolutely will make a measurable difference. Something that affects 1 in 88 children affects us all, whether Republican, Democrat, Tea Party supporter, or whatever your affiliation...it affects us ALL. If it doesn't yet, one day you will know someone with an autistic child. Ultimately, if we don't focus on giving autistic children the care they need, we will have a generation of children growing into adults who will not be able to fully support themselves and who will not be able to fully contribute as taxpayers.
Yes, we need to do this for every one of the 1 in 88. However, I don't just see them as the 1 in 88, as some of you might. I see these children as individuals with names, adorable faces, and stories of challenge and triumph. I see the children of my fellow autism parents. I see the kids in my son's preschool class. I see the smiling faces of the children I see at the therapy clinic.
Most importantly, I see my son Jack. He's my 1 in 88. I see his beautiful smile and precious face. I see a child that loves to swing, watch bubbles float by on the wind, and sees beauty in letters that others simply cannot see. I see a child who loves being outdoors. I see a child who flaps his hands not just because he's autistic, but because he is happy. I see my son's joy, his struggles, and his pain. I see my son's life that has been filled with therapies and special education. I see his past and what we might be facing, but I also see his potential.
God knows there is so much potential with every one of our kids.
There is so much you - yes, you! - can do to help every one of the 1 in 88. You can take the pledge to Light It Up Blue on World Autism Awareness Day this April 2nd. You can join a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. Or, you can simply spread awareness and kindness in your daily lives and use your right to vote to support expanding services to people with disabilities. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of every single one of the individuals on the autism spectrum.