This article is contributed by commenter Susan Leiby. The United Nations has designated April 2, 2008, as World Autism Awareness Day. Watch the video.

I am the mother of a child with autism, and Right Pundits has graciously allowed me a guest post today.



Autism is a complex neurological disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate. It is characterized by absent or severely limited language development, social deficits, obsessively rigid routines and repetitive behavior.

In 1980, one in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today, the Centers for Disease Control puts the number at one in 150 children. For boys, the rate is one in 94. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined.

The good news is that with appropriate therapies, many of these children can go on to live fulfilling lives. If a child with autism receives intensive early intervention, they have a 47% chance of being mainstreamed into a general education classroom, indistinguishable among their peers.

Unfortunately therapies are very expensive, costing tens of thousands of dollars a year. Most of these therapies are not covered by insurance. A few states have passed legislation requiring insurance companies meeting certain requirements to cover autism services, but we have yet to see how thorough that coverage will be.

So what can the average citizen, unaffected by autism, do to help?

As a mother, the first thing I ask for is your understanding. When my son throws a tantrum out in public, please look at us with compassion. My son cannot control these outbursts, and I can assure you I am doing everything I can to suppress them. If he insists on standing and repeatedly watching a door open and close, please don’t look at him like he’s weird. He can’t help becoming fixated on certain things. And if he makes an inappropriate comment, please forgive him. He doesn’t understand appropriate social behaviors. Know that I am deeply sorry, and hurting inside too.

If you know a parent of a child with autism, please be a support to them. 80-90% of marriages fail when a child with autism is involved. Offer to watch their children so they can go out. It can be hard to get a babysitter when you have a child with autism. Include them in social activities, just like you would any other family. We need to remain involved too, as do our children. Find ways to help with everyday responsibilities. Go over and play with the kids for a few hours so mom can get the laundry done. Stop by and offer to mow the law. Parents of children with autism are usually exhausted, both physically and mentally, and would appreciate having some help once in a while.

And as public citizens, you can contact your legislators and encourage them support legislation that will help families and individuals with autism. Your voice can go a long way.

The following initiatives are on the national level:
• The Combating Autism Act (S.843) was passed in 2006, and authorizes $920 million in federal funding to fight autism through biomedical and environmental research, surveillance, awareness and early identification, over the next five years.
• The Department of Defense Appropriations Bill for the Autism Spectrum Disorders Research Program (ASDRP) included $6.4 million for autism research in 2008, marking the second year that the Congress has targeted defense dollars for autism.
• Disability Savings Act (DSA) of 2008 (S. 2741) is designed to encourage individuals with autism (and other disabilities) and their families to save for disability-related expenses. The Act authorizes “Disability Savings Accounts,�? which are similar in many respects to existing 529 college savings plans.
• The Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act (EPIAA) (H.R. 1881, S. 937) will authorize approximately $350 million in new federal money – over and above all existing federal spending on autism – for important initiatives related to treatments, interventions, and services for both children and adults with autism.

On the state level, several states have passed or introduced insurance mandates to cover autism, as well as statewide funding programs for therapies.

To find out more about these and other autism legislative issues, please visit http://www.autismvotes.org.

If I haven’t managed to convince you yet of the importance of helping children with autism, I encourage you to watch my son’s video. He really could be anyone’s child. But He’s My Son.

http://www.whatkindofworlddoyouwant.com/videos/view/id/670709

Thank you for your support.
Susan Leiby
Mom to Michael, age 4 ½, diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in 2007, and Matthew, age 2 ¼, currently neuro-typical. http://www.theleibys.com.

[ed- please visit Susan’s blog and sponsor her in the Strides for Autism walk.]

(Thank you to Winston’s Wish Foundation, Autism Votes, and Autism Speaks for data used in this piece.)

Update:
On April 2, 2008, Michael, Greg and Susan are featured on WSPA news between 5 – 6:30 pm for a story about autism.

If you are in the local area, WSPA is channel 7.

If you are not local, the story should be available online after 6:30 pm. Their main website is http://www.wspa.com. But Susan will put a direct link to the story on our website, http://www.theleibys.com when it is available.

Michael said he wants “all his friends” to watch him on TV.