You may not be aware of it, but April is Autism Awareness Month. In fact, April 2nd is designated World Autism Awareness Day by the United Nations. This day recognizes the increasing prevalence of autism around the world and its impact on families, schools and businesses. The advocacy organization Autism Speaks has promoted the practice of “Lighting It Up Blue” internationally, and around the world famous buildings such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York City will be bathed in blue light in recognition of autism.
As communities become more aware of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we are seeing changes in how society accommodates their differences. Movie theaters are having special showings that are more sensory friendly to people with ASD, with soft lighting and reduced soundtracks. Plays are being presented in special formats, and locally the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) has had special days and hours when the center is open exclusively for families with an affected member.
In Philadelphia, Dr. Wendy Ross has worked to develop experiences to help people with autism understand what it will be like when they take their first plane ride. Her work has coordinated airport personnel, members of the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and airline personnel. Airlines have donated time on their parked planes to help with these trainings. Families have seen great benefit as they are able to travel with their family member with autism where they couldn’t before.
Here at Nationwide Children’s Hospital we have a family advisory committee working with the professionals at our Child Development Center and Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders. These family members have provided us with suggestions for making our center more family friendly and, especially, autism friendly to help make visits to the doctor or therapist less bothersome. From our work at the center we now have a representative on the hospital’s family advisory council. We are working on new ways to make the hospital experience less disturbing through staff trainings and changes in hospital routines and procedures. We are looking to work with our lab personnel to make the process of obtaining blood for lab tests less frightening, and there are many other ways we can make health care for children and adolescents with ASD better.
It all starts with awareness of the different needs of people with autism, and each of us has a role in making things better.
At Nationwide Children’s Hospital we have one of the foremost autism spectrum disorder programs in the country. If you have concerns that a family member may have autism, or have questions about treatment of autism, contact Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders for further information.
Daniel L. Coury, MD, is Chief of the Section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Psychiatry at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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