Growing austism rates raises awareness

Halie Noble

Autism affects more children than AIDS, diabetes, and pediatric cancer combined, yet researchers are still unaware of what causes it, or how to stop it. As the number of cases continue to rise, so does the level of awareness. Celebrities with autistic children are speaking up, and alternative methods of schooling are emerging around the country.

Autism is a neurological disorder that impacts social interaction and communication skills. It is the fastest growing developmental disorder in America; 1 out of every 150 children born will be diagnosed with Autism, and that number continues to grow. Children who become autistic may stop speaking, avoid eye contact, and be unaware of others’ emotions and facial expressions, but symptoms of the diagnosed vary so greatly that two people may be affected very differently.

Jenny McCarthy is one of the leading celebrities in the fight for Autism awareness. Her son, Evan, was diagnosed with Autism and she has made it her mission to improve the lives of autistic children. McCarthy and her long- time boyfriend, Jim Carrey, have led multiple marches and walks to raise awareness. Until well known faces started publicizing the effects of Autism, there was very little understanding of the disorder, but now more and more people are becoming involved in the fight against Autism. This new awareness has helped form some basic techniques on how to help an autistic child. 

The key to minimizing the negative effects of Autism is early action. As soon as a parent notices autistic-like symptoms they should tell their child’s doctor. The child should begin speech and occupational therapies along with many other treatments to help the child cope with their difficulties.

Around the country, schools are emerging that cater particularly to children with developmental disorders. One such school is The Community School in Decatur, Georgia.  The Community School understands that some autistic children may have a difficult time at public schools and become discouraged with education and makes it their mission to help those kids. With a very small enrollment number they are able to specialize to each child’s needs and set up a curriculum that matches the students’ abilities.

Parents of the children at these schools have seen great improvement in their children.

 “My son is experiencing friendship for the first time,” a parent said on The Community School’s website. “He is learning to handle the ups and downs of relating to others, and he is becoming more confident in himself.”

The school’s success can be attributed to the curriculum and different methods that they integrate into education. They use the DIR (Developmental, Individual-difference, Relationship) based system, which centers on social-environmental development, and is very different from the previously accepted ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) system.

Although children at the school are not usually assigned homework, one of the most important parts of the program is the daily “floor-time” and individual and parent guided reading. Floor-time is a key part in the school’s philosophy; it consists of the parent and child spending at least thirty minutes together engaging in some sort of play and interaction that helps the child with bonding and emotional therapy. Teachers of The Community School emphasize that this is a very crucial part of the child’s development and it should happen every day. Parents have also found the floor-time to be a learning process for themselves as well.

The success of these schools is evident; the children are able to learn in an environment where they don’t feel different, they aren’t made fun of, and where they are taught that learning can be fun.

Although the cause of Autism is unknown, what is known is that people are crying out for progress. It is estimated that, right now, 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with Autism a year and in ten years that number is expected to reach 4 million. Autism is a growing issue that Americans are realizing cannot be ignored and, with the help of schools like The Community School, families are finally beginning to see hope.