ROCKINGHAM — Two weeks after donning funky socks for Down syndrome, the employees of Richmond County’s departments of health and social services were decked out in blue Tuesday for World Autism Day.
Most were wearing blue shirts reading “Autism Speaks,” while others either wore other autism-related shirts or just the color blue.
Although trademarked by the Autism Society, the puzzle piece has been used as a symbol for autism awareness since 1999. The ribbon for autism awareness features puzzle pieces of varying colors which reflect “the complexity of the autism spectrum,” according to the Autism Society’s website.
“The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope — hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and access to appropriate services/supports, people with autism will lead full lives able to interact with the world on the own terms.”
Joining them this time around was 3-year-old Sadie Burdick, who has autism and is nonverbal.
She wore a puzzle-piece ribbon in her hair and a shirt reading: Society says I am AUTISTIC; God says I’m PERFECT.”
Her mother, Hayley Holder, said Sadie was diagnosed about a year ago.
“My mom (Jennifer Allen, who works with DSS) noticed it first,” Holder said. “I was more skeptical … I don’t think I’ve 100 percent accepted it; but it’s a learning experience.”
Holder said they began to notice small things, like having to be on a set schedule and not making contact. She also doesn’t show signs of being in pain, which recently made it difficult to tell she was sick when she came down with strep throat.
Sadie’s eye contact and some other behaviors have improved since she’s been going to Sandhills Children’s Center, Holder said.
And although she doesn’t talk, “she babbles a lot.”
“We learn every day … how to calm her down … redirect her,” Holder said.
Autism Spectrum Disorder covers a “broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication,” according to AutismSpeaks.org.
Several autism-related diagnoses, including Asperger syndrome, were merged into ASD by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013.
The number of children diagnosed with autism has increased dramatically in the past 15 years, from one in 166 in 2004 to 1 in 59 in 2018, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no one cause for autism, according to Autism Speaks, but there are genetic and environmental factors that can lead to the disorder’s development. Parents who are older, complications during pregnancy or birth, and pregnancies too close together are high risk factors.
There are many parents who believe autism is caused by the increased number of vaccinations children receive in their first few years and the timing between vaccines and when signs of the disorder start to show.
However, health officials point to numerous studies that show there is no link.
April is designated as Autism Awareness Month.