Posted by: suekenney | April 2, 2014

Light It Up Blue!

World-autism-awareness-dayToday is April 2.  It is also World Autism Awareness Day, first sanctioned by the United Nations in 2007.  To be honest, I knew very little about autism until a few years ago, when my older grandson Owen was diagnosed as being on the spectrum.  I hardly qualify as an expert now, but I do know more than I did back then.

Autism, first of all, is not a disease.  It cannot be cured by medicines, though some of its effects can be alleviated by various drugs.  It is a condition.  Nor is it a single list of symptoms; autism is a spectrum of symptoms ranging from very mild to very severe.  One person with autism might be severely mentally handicapped, unable to speak at all, prone to tantrums and rocking back and forth and other severe behaviors.  Another might have no mental handicap at all, no problem communicating or speaking, and only a difficulty with social relationships to indicate anything is amiss.  Yet both are on the spectrum of autism.

When Owen was diagnosed in 2011, the CDC said that 1 in 88 children was on the autism spectrum.  Just recently, the CDC released revised figures, saying that it was now 1 in 68.  That’s quite a jump.  That means that if you know 100 people, chances are really good that at least one of them has autism.  So why this sudden “surge” in the numbers of cases of autism?  Is it really becoming that much more prevalent?  Perhaps.  Has the definition of autism been broadened enough to include that many more people?  Maybe.  Have there been improvements in diagnostic techniques and an upswing in numbers of parents wanting their children screened for autism?  I think that is the most likely scenario – though certainly it’s not ONLY that.

220px-TempleGrandinAlmost five times as many boys are diagnosed with autism as girls.  I have no idea why.  One of the most well-known autistic persons that I know of is Temple Grandin, a woman who struggled with severe autism throughout much of her life.  If not for a very determined mother, Temple would have been institutionalized in early childhood.  Yet she now, at age 66, is renowned as an author, a speaker, a doctor of animal studies, a college professor, an activist, a consultant to the livestock industry, and an engineer.

Satoshi_TajiriLooking at the male side, there is Satoshi Tajiri, who grew up with Asperger’s syndrome (one of the mildest forms of autism), and as a young adult created the Pokemon universe.

My grandson Owen was between 15 and 16 months old when he was diagnosed.  He and his parents then lived in a county of New York state that was very energetic with early intervention for kids with autism.  He received various therapies – speech, occupational, physical – both at home and at a special preschool – from therapists who were very caring and professional.  This continued for over several months, until the family moved to another county.  There, they found another preschool program for Owen that has continued all of the above therapies, added a couple of new ones, and given him a new classroom setting for learning more social skills, building on what was started in the first location.  Every time I see Owen now, he has advanced in his speech, socializing, cognition, motor skills, and so on.  I cannot say enough about what early intervention has done for Owen.

There are a number of groups and organizations now that advocate for people with autism, and that disseminate information.  One of them is Autism Speaks (you can find them at  Every year on April 2, to kick off April as Autism Awareness Month, Autism Speaks sponsors “Light It Up Blue,” a worldwide initiative to draw people’s attention to the facts about autism.  This post is my little contribution to the overall event – my little attempt to “light it up blue” for my neck of the woods.


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