ROCKINGHAM — People across Richmond County and the nation dressed up in blue Friday for World Autism Day.
Among them were Richmond County Chamber of Commerce President Emily Tucker, whose son is autistic, and RO Managing Editor William R. Toler, whose brother is on the spectrum.
April is recognized as Autism Acceptance Month and those who have relatives on the spectrum are encouraged to wear blue on the 2nd.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines autism spectrum disorder as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.”
Several autism-related diagnoses, including Asperger syndrome, were merged into ASD by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013.
“People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills,” according to the CDC. “They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things. Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.”
Although it occurs in both boys and girls, Autism is 4.3 times more prevalent in boys, according to the CDC.
Many causes of ASD are unknown, according to the CDC, but children born to older parents or who have older siblings with autism are more likely to be diagnosed.
While the CDC says there is no link between childhood vaccinations and autism, many parents share anecdotal stories of how their children’s development slowed after receiving certain inoculations.
Autism is generally noticed within the first three years. The signs and symptoms vary, but someone with ASD may:
- Have severe language deficits or differences
- Talk about or show interest in a restricted range of topics
- Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over)
- Not look at objects when another person points at them
- Have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
- Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Prefer not to be held or cuddled or might cuddle only when they want to
- Appear to be unaware when people talk to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language (echolalia)
- Have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
- Laugh, cry, or show distress for no apparent reason
- Repeat actions over and over again, often in a very stereotyped manner.
- Have trouble adapting when a routine changes
- Have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
- Be oversensitive or under-sensitive to pain
- Lose skills they once had (for instance, stop saying words they were once using)
In 1970, the Autism Society “launched an ongoing nationwide effort to promote autism awareness and assure that all affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible,” according to the organization’s website.
Two years later, the Autism Society started National Autistic Children’s Week, which has since grown to encapsulate the entire month to bring awareness and acceptance of the wide-ranging condition.
In March, the Autism Society announced that it was changing the reference from “Awareness Month” to “Acceptance Month.”
“While we will always work to spread awareness, words matter as we strive for autistic individuals to live fully in all areas of life,” Christopher Banks, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America, said in a press release. “As many individuals and families affected by autism know, acceptance is often one of the biggest barriers to finding and developing a strong support system.”
Autism has become more prevalent in the past decade.
According to the Autism Society, the rate of autism in children was one in 125 in 2010. Last year, the CDC reported that it had increased to one in 54.
While the RO was unable to obtain any local statistics regarding ASD, the Autism Society of North Carolina says that 40,000 individuals and families across the state receive direct services.
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, which goes on to read:
“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 their own terms.”
The Richmond County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina is led by the mother-daughter team of Marcia and Meghann Lambeth. The latter Lambeth, who also works as the county’s tourism director, has a son with autism. Nicole Bowles, spent seven years as a teacher with Sandhills Children’s Center and worked with autistic students in the school system, serves as treasurer.