Wake up Houston! 1 in 68 can’t wait! Did you know that less than 15 years ago it affected 1 in 10,000 children? This column is not going to be about answering the question of why autism is on such a rise because frankly we still do not know. However, what we do know is that with 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed as autistic, help is needed, awareness is needed, education is needed, and opportunities are needed. Ignorance is bliss cannot be society’s motto anymore! As I was meeting with a fundraising consultant recently, he told me that I would have trouble raising money in our community for a solution to a problem our community does not know we have. We cannot ignore this need anymore!
Jennifer Dantzler – Who I am
I am the executive director for Including Kids, a non-profit for children and young adults on the autism spectrum, which I founded almost 13 years ago. People ask me all the time why I founded Including Kids, and it is not because I have a child with autism or someone in my family with autism. It is simply something I was drawn to while in college. If you are spiritual, you would say it was a spiritual gift. If you are not, you would say it was a talent I was fortunate enough to have. I have been honored to be able to write this column and hopefully eventually be known as the autism voice in the Houston community and beyond.
I am a person who believes that autism is an ABILITY, not a disability. The experiences I have had over the past 20+ years interacting with individuals with autism have made me who I am today. My goal for this column is to help our community, and by community I mean the Houston community at large, or wherever you are reading this, understand autism because everyone has the right and obligation to be a contributing member of society. Autism just makes things a little trickier.
By now I’m sure you can tell that I am not a writer by trade, but I do have a lot to say on this topic. Passion is my middle name when it comes to autism awareness. I want your feedback, I want to know what questions you need answers for, and I want this to be a community resource so that we can become an inclusive community. In today’s article, I am going to tell you a little bit about what autism is and what autism is not from my perspective.
The Autism Voice – 1 in 68 Can’t Wait
Currently, autism is defined as a series of delays that could include speech and communication delays, social skills delays that include play skills, sometimes academic or pre-academic deficits, fine and gross motor delays, and behavioral challenges. One of the first early signs of autism is when an infant does not point to what he wants. Joint attention is very common for one to two-year-olds, where a child will see a plane, point to the plane, look at mom to see if she sees the plane, and then look back at the aircraft.
Children on the autism spectrum often do not have joint attention or perspective taking. We often see inappropriate repetitive behavior when they are playing with a toy, possibly obsessively lining up the toys in a particular pattern the same way every time, moving a toy in front of their eyes in a given pattern or doing repetitive body motions. You might see exaggerated behavioral reactions to denied access to desired items or requests, or even out of the blue because they do not have a way to communicate that they are frustrated. You might see an oversensitivity to pain or an under sensitivity to pain. You might see particular food preferences, for example, only chewy foods, white foods, or crunchy foods.
What I often explain in my conferences and training sessions is that autism is an exaggeration of human behavior. We all have certain things we crave at certain times, we all have certain routines that we like. The difference is that we know how to adapt and accept those times through socially appropriate behavior, well most of us do. ☺ For example, how many of us park in the same spot in a parking lot even though we aren’t assigned a place? How many of us use the same stall in a multi-stall bathroom even though we aren’t assigned to that stall.
The difference is that if someone is in our parking spot, we don’t, or at least I hope we don’t, ram our car into their vehicle. If someone is using our stall in the bathroom, we do not bust the door down and urinate on the person on the toilet, or we do not fall to the floor head banging. We might want to, and we might even think it, but we do not act on it because we know it is socially unacceptable and would involve legal and/or financial consequences as well.
Autism is getting diagnosed at an earlier age now because physician awareness is getting better, but we are still not there. We see many clients coming to us at the age of four or five years old because the parents have been told,
Don’t worry, he’s the fourth child and his siblings are talking for him.
The problem is that now we have lost a valuable couple of years of teaching essential skills around the area of communication and adaptive behavior skills. As we continue these articles, I will continue to shed light on what autism looks like and does not look like for people of all ages. This article would be even longer than it already is if I would try to explain to you all the different caveats to autism today. There is an expression,
If you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism.
Every child is unique in their ability and in their challenges, and it is my hope that with this column I can help all of you who have been touched by autism put some tools in your toolbox. If you have not been touched by autism, I hope I can show you how you can reach out and help someone who has been affected by autism because it is probably your neighbor, cousin, or the person sitting in the next cubicle at work.