YOUR HEALTH MATTERS: Parents of children living with autism ask for respect beyond Autism Awareness Month in April

The CDC says 1 in 44 children have been identified on the autism spectrum.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 5:45 PM CDT
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MENASHA, Wis. (WBAY) - The CDC says one in 44 children have been identified on the autism spectrum. April is Autism Awareness Month and parents of children with autism are speaking out to encourage greater understanding from community members.

Organizations and companies throughout the state offer opportunities for families to connect with others going through similar challenges. The Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin puts on social and educational events for families and people living on the autism spectrum, serving about 3,000 Wisconsinites every year. Include one mom, Lexi B. (who didn’t want to use her last name on-air for privacy purposes) whose son Landon was diagnosed with autism about a year ago.

“He just wasn’t really walking and he does this cute little head roll thing,” Lexi shared. “It’s adorable when you see it on him.”

Lexi’s four-year-old son Landon receives daily in-home therapy Monday through Friday at their house in Glenwood. Former accountant, Lexi stays home with Landon who is non-verbal but does some sign language along with her one-year-old son Bjorn. Lexi remembers feeling relieved when Landon was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

“There are a lot of different emotions that go along with getting an autism diagnosis,” executive director at the Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin, Kirsten Cooper, shared. “For some families it’s kind of relief of kind of understanding what has been going on. Sometimes it’s surprise. It can be really a range of emotions.”

After diagnosis though, many family members feel unsupported. Which is why companies like Fox Valley Autism Treatment Program regularly put together events to encourage bonding for a range of people with autism from young children to adults. Having group activities like game nights not only helps teach social skills but can also help children make friends which therapists say can sometimes be a challenge.

Annie Krall talks about the people she met for her latest Your Health Matters report

“We have a lot of success stories from parents that we draw from and just say like ‘hey, we had this kid who had a lot of aggression or minimal to no vocal communication and now they are out having friends or going to movies with their friends.’ " a behavioral treatment therapist with Fox Valley Autism Treatment Program Jess Marchetti, said. “Some of our clients go off to college. We just have a wonderful set of stories to share with families.”

Lexi hopes that by sharing her story, more community members will take the extra step to be respectful when they see a child with autism having an episode oftentimes because of sensory sensitivity.

“It doesn’t make it any easier, I’m not going to be able to control him because you’re giving him a look,” Lexi explained. “Just have a little bit more respect and a little bit more understanding.”

If you or someone you know may benefit from getting an autism diagnosis the first step is to reach out to your primary physician or local autism organization for testing. Secondly, think about joining some of their social events. Finally, encourage understanding and awareness for the autism community even beyond April.

Annie Krall is a former writer and producer for ABC NEWS New York City on the national medical and business units. Prior to that position, she was accepted to medical school her senior year at Northwestern University, after spending four years as a pre-medical student. However, Krall deferred her acceptance to pursue a Master in Health, Environment, and Science Journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

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