Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Become Aware this Month

Despite the fact that we are rapidly approaching the middle of April, I wanted to pass along the knowledge that April is Autism Awareness Month. For those of you who might not have realized, I mainly worked with children who had forms of high-functioning autism during my teaching career. In doing so, I became quite proficient in this spectrum disorder and somewhat involved in groups that are searching for a cure and/or answers for this disease. I believe it is safe to say that Autism is an epidemic that is rapidly affecting our society. The prevalence rates of autism are now being reported by the CDC as 1 in every 150 (some other organizations report it to be as high as 1 in 133). That is tragically high, people.

Autism is classified as a "spectrum" disorder, meaning that symptoms can range from mild to serious, yet are similar in features. Basically, not everyone diagnosed as having autism acts like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman (truthfully, very few demonstrate such characteristics although Mr. Hoffman's character was based on a real person). There currently is no cure and currently no definite known cause of this disease. Having worked closely with a small group of children and families for four years who are affected by this disorder (I taught the same students every year, despite their grade level), I have seen how hard Autism is on the person struggling with it and on their families (all of the parents were either divorced or going through a divorce by the end of my four years with that class--tragic). My students were considered "high functioning" meaning that they basically appeared to be your average elementary student. However, they were prisoners of their own mind, unable to communicate feelings appropriately, severely irritated by things others likely do not notice, and struggled to understand the social norms of our society. A journal sits in the dusty corners of my attic written by one of my students in times of anger. We started this process one fall as a way for him to tell me what he was feeling when frustration took hold of his body (I honestly started this out of self-preservation because his normal reaction was to scream and act out aggressively towards me and school property....always a nice way to spend one's work day). Some of the journal includes writing but the majority of it is in pictures. It really opened my eyes to the prison this child was in and that the prison was his own mind. Although I would like to share this journal with others and use it someday, the mother was never very keen on signing any type of release so its contents are bound by state confidentiality laws.

I encourage you to become more aware of this disease this month. Oprah did a semi-decent episode on autism last week (I say "semi" because she felt the need to share her half-educated ideas constantly and also attempted to make a vaccine connection which has been rebuked by the scientific community. However, the families that were shown did an excellent job of relaying how autism affects them personally.) that had some useful insights and information. Cure Autism Now (who recently merged with Autism Speaks) is a great organization and a good start to educate yourself about this disease. Our local Walk Now! is rapidly approaching, but there is still time to sign up to participate (Casa de Phillips will not be at this one due to the fact that little Evelyn should have recently made her appearance by this point in time)

As I climb down from my soapbox, I do have an amusing Isaac story to lighten the mood of this post. Last week my mother sent an Easter basket package to Evelyn (Isaac's had come the day before through Ernie DVD. He currently calls Ernie "Denny" which is quite precious). Isaac was in the living room as I opened the box and was quite excited to view its contents. As I cut through the thick layers of packing tape, I kept reminding him that this box contained things for the baby. We were finally able to open the flaps of the box and the first thing I pulled out was a pink Gund teddy bear that had been mine when I was a child. Isaac immediately grabbed it, gave it a huge hug, and called it a pig. He has since named this "pig" Ink-Ink (because he says a pig says, "Ink Ink" rather than "Oink, Oink."). Ink-Ink has been a companion of Isaac every day since. Ink-Ink takes naps with Isaac, has his diaper changed with Isaac, and watches Elmo's World with Isaac. Every night we put Ink-Ink back in the baby's room, but every morning Isaac retrieves his new friend. Last night Isaac was mad at me because I would not let him play with nail clippers (what a Mean Mommy I am) and went in the living room crying for Ink-Ink. Precious. Poor Evelyn might never know that Ink-Ink is 1.Actually a bear and not a pig and 2. Belongs to her.


1literatimommy said...

thanks so much for your words about autistic children and their families. it is difficult to imagine how heart wrenching a diagnosis like this would be. i once taught an austistic high schooler and he was by far the kindest student i had the pleasure of teaching. because of him, i have a soft spot in my heart for autistic children.

JenniferReinsch said...

On my behalf of all of the Special Needs and Austistic Kids I work with, thanks for giving a shout-out to Autism Awareness.

This past weekend was the Walk Far for NAAR (National Association of Autism Research). I encourage anyone can be a part of it to do so next year.