We are at war with a virus that is testing the fortitude and faith of our nation and the world.  During this time, it is easy to forget about other significant issues that affect our society. 

Autism is one of those issues. 

One of the primary functions of the West Georgia Autism Foundation (WGAF) is creating awareness about autism.  Since the 1970’s, nationwide efforts to promote autism awareness have been ongoing.  However, the impact of autism on society, our safety net, and especially on autistic children and adults is still unknown to most of the American people.

April is Autism Awareness Month.  The WGAF, and others, continue our work to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change. 

What is autism?

Autism is viewed as a “spectrum.” Some children are born on the high functioning end. The medical community once called this Asperger’s Syndrome. Some characteristics include very poor social skills, outbursts when too many sensory stimuli are surrounding the child, and other behavioral issues. The lower end of the spectrum is heartbreaking. Almost one third of autistic children are non-verbal. They do not speak. Then, there are the many who fall somewhere in between.

What causes autism? 

While the WGAF does not have a position on this issue, according to Autism Speaks:

  • Research indicates that genetics are involved in the vast majority of cases. 
  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having autism. 
  • Parents who have a child with autism have a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected.  
  • Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research show that vaccines do not cause autism. 

So, why should everyone care? 

Consider the following:

  • This year, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism, according to 2016 data.  1 in 34 boys will be diagnosed with autism.  1 in 144 girls will receive the same diagnosis.  It is unknown why boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
  • Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.
  • Autism does not discriminate.  It affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • Many autistic adults need financial assistance from family or the government.  The cost of caring for Americans with autism had reached $268 billion in 2015 and would rise to $461 billion by 2025 in the absence of more-effective interventions.
  • The majority of autism’s costs in the U.S. are for adult services – an estimated $175 to $196 billion a year, compared to $61 to $66 billion a year for children. 
  • On average, medical expenditures for children and adolescents with ASD were 4.1 to 6.2 times greater than for those without autism.   
  • Early intervention increases the chances that a child will live a more or totally independent life without the need for public or private assistance. 

What is currently being done?

Georgia is one of the leaders in addressing the needs of our autistic people. Former Governor Deal, Governor Kemp, and the vast majority of the General Assembly have wholeheartedly supported autism related legislation before most states even knew there was a problem. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R) (Carrollton) has facilitated much of the legislation and is one of the largest autism supporters in the state.

Additionally, outreach by the WGAF, Autism Speaks, and other groups have assisted the private sector and public in becoming much more aware about autism in recent years.  This awareness has prompted many generous citizens to donate money, time, and their skills to face the issues surrounding autism.

If you have some downtime this month, I ask for your assistance in spreading the word about autism via social media and other avenues as we begin to tighten our grip on the coronavirus. 

To learn more about the WGAF and/or Autism Awareness Month, please visit www.wgaautism.org, www.autismspeaks.org, or follow #wgaautism on Facebook and other social media.