I have four nephews and four nieces. They are all beautiful kids, and I love each one of them very much. But two of my nephews, Matthew, 8, and Joseph, 9, are two special children.
They have both been touched by autism.
Many people in America have very little idea exactly what autism is. I have to admit that I did not know much about the condition until it directly affected my family. Autism is a biological disorder of the brain that impairs communication and social skills. It encompasses a broad spectrum of disorders that may range from mild to severe. Autistics have been described as being in their “own world”. Many high functioning autistics describe two worlds; “their world” and the “outside world”.
Autism affects about 1 in every 500 births in America, and boys are five times as likely to be affected than girls. About 400,000 people in the US are affected by autism. Autism is more common than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or childhood cancer. But it is very overlooked in America, as autism receives as little as 5% of the research funding as other less common diseases. The annual per-person allocation for persons with autism is approximately $35. In contrast, multiple sclerosis receives roughly $158, diabetes $424, breast cancer $600, and AIDS $1,000. Currently there is no medical detection, treatment or cure for autism.
The R&B singer Toni Braxton and the actor William Christopher (who played Father Mulcahy on "M*A*S*H") have been active celebrity spokespeople about autism, as they both have raised autistic sons. Dan Marino and Doug Flutie also have autistic sons, and have established foundations to raise awareness and combat the disease. Earlier this year, Ms. Braxton appeared on an episode of "The View" that highlighted the disease and the need for more to be done in terms of research. It was a heart-wrenching hour (which I watched) that highlighted families and the difficulties they've faced in raising autistic children.
It has been a tremendous burden for my sisters Maureen and Theresa in raising a son that has been affected by autism. They both love their sons very, very much and would do anything and everything for them. Maureen related a story to me about meeting a lady in a doctor's office recently and she was there with Matt. He was good at first, but began stimming. The lady recognized that Matt was touched by autism, and could relate to what Maureen was going through. Unfortunately, too many people don't relate to a child with autism, and Maureen, like many other people, has had to endure nasty looks and snide comments from them. But Maureen wants to raise Matt like any other child, and doesn't want to turn him into a recluse.
I wish I had written this piece earlier this month, as April is coming to an end this weekend. But I would urge all of you out there to support the fight against autism, and also to be aware of the signs of the disease as early as possible in a young child. There are many great web sites out there about autism, but I would suggest you check out the following:
Autism Speaks: www.autismspeaks.com
Autism Info: www.autisminfo.com
The Center for the Study of Autism: www.autism.org
The Dan Marino Foundation: www.danmarinofoundation.com
The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation For Autism: www.dougflutiejrfoundation.org
Autism Society of America: www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer
I am keeping the "April Is Autism Awareness Month" logo on the left side of my site, even when April ends. The struggle against autism will, of course, continue. Matt and Joe are both beautiful boys, and I love them both dearly.
And I pray that one day we will have the answer to the riddle that is autism.