MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Department of Mental Health wants to educate Alabamians about autism during April to help promote National Autism Awareness Month.
The month-long campaign that has been sponsored since the 1970s by the Autism Society of America (ASA), seeks to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism.
Autism spectrum disorder is a group of complex neurological disorders typically present by 3 years of age and characterized by atypical development in socialization and communication. ASD is often accompanied by unusual behavior and interests.
Three disorders are considered ASDs, (a) autism, (b) pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified and (c) Asperger's disorder. The term "spectrum disorder" is used to indicate that ASD characteristics range on a continuum from mild to significantly disabling.
In order to raise awareness, activities have already gotten underway and remain scheduled throughout April.
In Alabama, Autism Awareness Month was kicked off early with the Autism Matters Legislative Day on March 30th.
More than 180 people including families living with autism and supporters of the autism community from across the state rallied in front of the Alabama State House to urge lawmakers to continue funding for programs and services to help children and adults with autism.
In addition, more than 15 locations around the state will host the Walks for Autism 2010.
The proceeds benefit the Autism Society of Alabama, which works to improve the quality of life of persons with autism spectrum disorders and their families through education, advocacy, and support.
In the 1970s and 80s, only three to four children out of every 10,000 had autism. The 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one in every 110 children and one in every 70 boys now has an ASD diagnosis.
In the midst of the rise of ASD throughout the state and nation, the Alabama Autism Task Force was formed in 2007 and charged with recommending ways to improve the treatment of autism in the state.
The 2009 Task Force Report offered recommendations for (a) services from screening and diagnosis through adulthood, and (b) an Alabama Autism Interagency Coordinating Council, which is now working to implement the task force recommendations.
Dr. Caroline Gomez joined ADMH, the governor-appointed lead agency for the AIACC, as the state's first autism coordinator in September 2009 to lead those efforts.
She states, "Although autism is typically thought of as a childhood disorder, societal and economic costs extend well into adulthood. A majority of adults with autism struggle with ongoing and mostly unmet needs for employment, housing, services, and supports."
Indeed, today 74 percent of working-aged adults with autism are unemployed, but would like to work and 84 percent still live with their families.
Families face more issues as those with autism continue to wait for services. "Unfortunately, the need continues to far exceed the available resources," Gomez states.
Likewise, the economic cost of autism is currently estimated at up to $90 billion annually. Gomez warns, "Absent the concerted effort on behalf of all, the societal and economic costs can only be expected to increase substantially."
To learn more about the Alabama Autism Interagency Coordinating Council, visit www.autism.alabama.gov.