Many will wear blue Sunday to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day. Twenty-five years ago, the month of April was established as National Autism Awareness Month to not only promote awareness but also to remove barriers and encourage self-determination for all.

On April 10, “Sesame Street” will contribute to the campaign by introducing bright-eyed and cheerful Julia, a new muppet who has autism. This is part of an initiative called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in all Children.”

There has been a sharp increase in the autism rate from a decade ago, according to information provided by the Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex at Western Kentucky University. Today, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability. ASD is a complex developmental disability with signs typically appearing during early childhood. Defined by a certain set of behaviors, ASD is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause.

Increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention coupled with access to appropriate services and supports can lead to significantly improved outcomes. Some of the behaviors associated with autism include:

  • Delayed learning of language.
  • Difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation.
  • Difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning.
  • Narrow, intense interests.
  • Poor motor skills.
  • Sensory sensitivities.

A person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

Autism Awareness events scheduled for April include:

  • Chick-fil-A at 1766 Campbell Lane will have an autism screening from 4 to 7 p.m. April 18.
  • LifeSkills’ 11th annual Run/Walk for Autism will be April 22 at Bowling Green Ballpark, 300 Eighth Ave. Sign-in and registration will be from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. There will be a four-mile run at 8 a.m., a one-mile kid’s run at 9 a.m. and a one-mile fun walk at 9:30 a.m.. For more information or to register, click on the LifeSkills Run for Autism link at wku.edu/wkucec.
  • Griffs Deli at 1640 Scottsville Road will have an autism screening from 10 a.m. until close April 25.

A parent or legal guardian must be present during the screenings for children 1 to 5 years old. Screening consists of a series of yes-or-no questions for parents to answer, and it only takes a few minutes. Results will be scored immediately so parents will know if there is a need to follow up. Professionals will be on hand to connect them to the best services and resources available.

The Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex oversees programs that work to enrich the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by ASD and developmental delays and disabilities. Professionals collaborate with multiple academic programs and community agencies to remove barriers and increase opportunities for full inclusion for individuals while engaging in applied research and professional development.

CEC programs include:

  • The Family Resource Program serves as a unifying point of the CEC. It provides information and referrals, identifies strengths and assesses needs and helps families connect with available resources in the community.
  • The Communication Disorders Clinic provides effective assessment and treatment services to individuals with communication disorders.
  • Renshaw Early Childhood Center serves children of all abilities from birth through kindergarten.
  • Kelly Autism Program provides an educational, social and supportive environment so that individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder can achieve their potential as independent, productive and active community citizens.

– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit, behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky. Her column appears monthly.

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