Below is an aritcle our friend and comrade Billy Powers wrote for the Davidsonian in April for Autism Awareness Month.
Thank you Billy for helping to spread awareness and understanding of our most beautiful and unique children.
"Ours is a community surrounded by achievement. As I prepare to watch so many of my friends walk across the podium to accept their diplomas, I’m floored by their successes. Amongst a class of fewer than 500 students, the graduating seniors at Davidson include future corps members of Teach for America, investment bankers, non-profit workers, lawyers, doctors, politicians, and recipients of major scholarships to pursue any number of endeavors.
For the entire senior class, the next several weeks will be a victory lap, four years in the making. They’ll be filled with accolades, all of which are merited. And, while I am humbled by and proud of the senior class for their accomplishments, I’d like to devote the remainder of this column to achievements measured on a different scale.
Somewhere, today, a boy has spoken his first words. Another has finally mastered the daily routine of getting dressed without any help. Elsewhere, a family has been able to enjoy a meal at a public restaurant without a single incident having occurred. And somewhere else, a mother is rejoicing because her daughter has been invited to the movies with some of her friends for the first time.
To many, these would appear to be fairly routine events and not of any special significance. But to a family of a child with Autism, they are milestones worthy of celebration.
April is Autism Awareness month, and every community can benefit from an understanding of the obstacles that families of children with Autism face everyday. In addition, it is equally as important to point out the sky-high potential that individuals with Autism possess, and the joy they bring to the lives of those around them.
According to the Autism Society, Autism “is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.” If the previous definition seems vague, it’s because there really is no consensus understanding of what exactly Autism is, let alone what causes it. What we do know is that roughly 1 in 110 children are born with it every year, and almost everyone is connected to someone with autism, directly or indirectly.
Parents of children diagnosed with Autism are quick to learn that their child’s life may take a different, though in no way lesser course than the one they had first expected. They’ll face developmental, physical, social, educational, and financial obstacles that typical peers more often than not won’t have to face. But confronting these barriers gives all those affected by Autism an invaluable perspective and a keen appreciation for everything the child overcomes. That being said, there’s no reason a family should have to face these challenges alone.
Communities such as ours are uniquely adept at embracing difference and can provide valuable support to families affected by Autism. We can do so by devoting a small portion of our time and money to supporting Autism research and support for families themselves. More importantly, we can make the effort to gain a greater understanding of Autism and it effects by reaching out directly to individuals with Autism, as well as their families. The benefits of doing so are totally reciprocal. Working with persons affected by Autism can help us to appreciate the things that are easily taken for granted and take great pride in watching someone on the spectrum break through the barriers they face and ultimately lead independent, successful lives.
So, as we round out April and move towards the semester’s finish line, remember that there are milestones of all sizes being passed, each of which is worthy of a celebration."