April is Autism Awareness Month!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 1 in 59 children born today have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. ASD is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups and is four times more common among boys than girls.  

My son is 30 years old and when he was diagnosed 22 years ago the ratio was 1 in 1,500. ASD is on the rise.

ASD may now be diagnosed as early as 18 months but most are diagnosed by age 4. Some of the signs and symptoms are:

1. Disconnection to others. Seem to be emotionally disconnected and may not understand facial cues.   

2. Apparent lack of empathy. Have difficulty understanding or appreciation for other people’s perspectives.

3. Indifferent to human interaction. Don’t look at others’ faces, nor respond when they hear their name. Don’t engage in normal developmental games and activities, including socializing and imitating other people.

4. Emotion outburst. Meltdowns! Why? Too often, a mystery.

5. Delayed language. Both expressive and receptive (understanding).

6. Difficulty understanding figurative expressions. Have trouble identifying sarcasm, body language and “Hey, what’s up?” Take things literally looking up in the sky.

7. Repetitive behavior. Line up toys, flapping arms, echolalia speech (repeating what parent is saying). Randomly saying movie lines over and over again.

8. Sensitivity to external stimuli. Sensitivity to loud noises, textures in clothing and food, overhead lighting, odors, and may not like to be cuddled or touched.  

9. Obsessive behavior. Repetitive motion (rocking), need for consistency in routine, unusual use of a toy or object (my son slept with a book), perseverates on a topic

10. Lack or poor communication. Delays is both expressive and receptive language. Due to this many meltdowns may occur because they can’t express their wants and needs.  

Autism is a spectrum disorder, so if you see one person with ASD, you’ve seen just one person with the disorder.

Every person looks different, acts differently and may/may not have language issues. These people are not Dustin Hoffman/Rain Man. A few may be savant but, as I understand it, the ratio is the same as neurotypical individuals.

If you have questions as to whether your loved one may have ASD, you can go online and look up the free questionnaire: M-CHAT-R and/or contact the local Birth to Three Program at (509) 412-4235. You may also use the website: wwvdn.org which has information about ASD.

WWVDN has a monthly support meeting for parents/caregivers of ASD individuals the last Thursday of each month, which Candace Nelson and I facilitate. You can find details under calendar/events on the website.

Lastly, please join us to celebrate those wonderful unique people with ASD at MOD Pizza at Walla Walla Towne Center on Tuesday from 11 a.m. — 9 p.m. When ordering, please mention Autism and a percentage of sales will go to our local WWVDN Autism Support group. We’ll have ASD handouts.

With this information, I hope you are now aware of Autism and will continue to accept and include those on the spectrum in our community.

Carla L. Nibler is board president of the Walla Walla Valley Disability Network 

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