Monday, February 8, 2016

Anna Nafziger, 18, helps Keegan Cook, 14, work on his presentation on an iPad at Building Opportunities Through Service and Skills Camp on Wednesday, July 18 in Goshen. BOSS Camp is for middle school and high school students affected by aspergers and autism. (AP)
World Autism Awareness Day 2014 educates the community, promotes support and understanding for autistic people
Posted on April 1, 2014 at 12:15 a.m.

Just last week, the Center for Disease Control released the results of a study showing autism diagnoses in the U.S. are about 30 percent higher than previously thought – now, 1 in 68 U.S. children is identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The news came just in time to garner some extra support for World Autism Awareness Day on Wednesday, April 2, which works to raise awareness for the disorder and encourages fundraising efforts for people with ASD and the organizations that help them.

Though the report showed a significant increase in the number of children diagnosed, this doesn't necessarily mean the prevalence of the disorder has increased – it could mean people are getting better at identifying it, NPR reported

If this is the case, it's a good thing. In a news release from the CDC, Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, stressed the importance of identifying ASD in kids as quickly as possible so they can get the help they need. 

"More needs to be done to identify children with autism sooner," Boyle said in a news release. "Early identification is the most powerful tool we have right now to make a difference in the lives of children with autism." 

The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders said there are many reasons why it's important to identify autism as early as possible. For one, it can help transform a family's worries about whether their child is having problems into a concrete diagnosis that will give them an idea of what to do next.

As people with ASD tend to have different learning patterns than those without the disorder, early diagnosis can also lead to better educational experiences for them, the Center said

To learn more about the early signs of autism, go to the CDC's website.

Though a large part of World Autism Awareness Day's goal is to raise awareness and funds, some also see it as an opportunity to celebrate the different perspectives and viewpoints ASD people bring to society. 

Like the term suggests, ASD is a spectrum of autism-related disorders. On one end of the spectrum, a person could be nonverbal; on the other, he or she could have a mind geared towards science or engineering, Temple Grandin, a professor, inventor, author, best-selling author and ASD woman said in a 2010 TED Talk

According to the CDC, the intellectual abilities of children diagnosed with ASD vary greatly. Some have severe intellectual challenges, whereas others test above average. The CDC's study found almost half of children identified with ASD have average or above average intellectual abilities.

In her TED Talk, Grandin provides a great explanation of how ASD minds work and stresses the importance of having these varied perspectives in our industries and society. According to Grandin, people with ASD have specialized thinking that helps them excel in some areas and fail in others.

Grandin, a visual thinker, made a career out of her ability to understand animals' thinking, her website said. She earned her Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois and has since used her innate understanding of animals' minds to revolutionize livestock movement systems and create more humane environments for them. 

Watch the video below to hear Grandin talk about how ASD minds work and what changes she thinks should be made to help ASD children meet their potential. 

Fortunately for Elkhart County families, there are a number of organizations willing to help identify, support and provide resources to ASD children and adults. They're listed below.

Do you know a person with ASD? What do you think the community could do to help that person reach his or her potential or find comfort in his or her life?