By Sophia Shiffman
Nearly every month of the year is dedicated to giving attention to a disease, illness or condition that affects people around the world. Many conditions, such as depression or breast cancer, are well-publicized during their months; however, while these conditions warrant global attention, others tend to get pushed into the background. April is Autism Awareness Month and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and although there are many programs to support those with autism and their families and to spread awareness about this disorder, this month tends to not receive the attention it should.
Autism Spectrum Disorder includes a wide range of disorders that affects millions around the U.S. and the world, with prevalence rates increasing ten-fold in the past 40 years, according to autismspeaks.org.
As a school community, Westfield should spread awareness about autism to increase understanding among students and faculty. Where there lacks understanding, there lacks tolerance. A common result of the lack of understanding is the all-too-common use of the word “retarded.” Especially among teens, there is not enough awareness of developmental disorders. The overuse and abuse of derogatory language contributes to the stigmas. This creates an even greater sense of isolation among kids and adults with autism and other disorders.
Inadequate awareness can also lead to disproportionate funding. With such a high prevalence of autism, the funds and amount of available programs tend not to match up, according to theautismproject.org. The lack of adequate understanding and awareness for this disorder only perpetuates this situation. To fix this problem and gain a better understanding, schools should invest in more programs and assemblies that teach about such disorders. Students should get involved because autism probably affects many of the people around them, whether they are aware of this fact or not.
More national and global attention is needed as well. While the severity of the disorder varies, no cure exists and few symptoms can be effectively treated, according to autismspeaks.org. There should be international funding to organizations, such as Autism Research Institute or the National Foundation for Autism Research, from countries around the world to accelerate autism research.
The Westfield community is moving in the right direction with the screening of WHS freshman Alexandra Jackman’s award-winning documentary followed by a presentation by psychologists on April 30. The film aims to encourage teens to better understand and accept those with autism and help teach kids with autism how to build successful relationships with family and friends.
But there is still more work to be done. The only way to effect change and reduce the stigma associated with autism and other disorders is to spread awareness and understanding.