Autism awareness, what does this really mean? Logos, colors and symbols that represent autism awareness are prevalent during the month of April. People equate the symbols with the autism spectrum. However, being aware that autism exists and comprehending what the autism spectrum is composed of, the challenges faced by families, children and adults who live with autism 12 months out of the year is a totally different and pressing issue.
By Denise Resnik
Something fell on the sidewalk. I saw it from a distance. I also saw other cars speeding by.
As I approached, what I saw was an elderly woman lying motionless on the side of the street. I pulled over immediately, explaining to Matt that he needed to stay in the car, stuffed with 480 eggs and hundreds of pounds of biscotti ingredients as we were on our way to prepare SMILE Biscotti batter.
Fortunately, Catherine is ok. I was relieved to see she was conscious and ruled out 911 at her request. Then together we dusted her off, found her glasses and applied some tissue to the scratches on her face. She didn’t live far, but there was no way I could wedge her into our car. That’s when I looked up and saw another stopped car.
Two millennials rushed over to check on us, then kindly offered to deliver her home. I followed and observed as she waived goodbye and blew kisses.
Oh, the kindness of humanity at its best. We stop for people who are older or people with obvious physical disabilities. But will someone stop and recognize someone needing help? What happens when the disability is not so obvious, or in Matt’s case, autism?
I’m banking on awareness and kindness, the most critical ingredients to creating a supportive community. And the need for community support is significant.
At least 60 percent of youth with autism have at least two health or mental health conditions in addition to the autism spectrum disorder, according to the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute Life Course Outcomes’ 2015 National Autism Indicators Report. In addition, one in four young adults with autism are socially isolated, according to the same data.
I’ve often wondered who will catch Matt’s fall, recognize his special needs and his oh so beautiful mind,
talents and heart. Who will discern Matt from his autism and medication side effects and be the diligent sleuth always searching for answers to the issue of the day, week, month or year?
While I cannot expect others to care as much as I do, I do expect a supportive community to desire similar outcomes, which are in our collective best interest. Greater independence and higher quality of life will significantly reduce cost to society. Moving the needle on positive outcomes will increase job satisfaction for direct support service providers, educators and medical professionals. For parents and family members, peace of mind is priceless.
Matt and I arrived at the commercial kitchen in time to greet 10 of his SMILE Biscotti co-workers and volunteers, who prepared batter for 3,000 pieces. Matt and his helpers, with dedication, determination and care, cheerfully spent the afternoon baking, learning employment and social skills in the process.
As we conclude another Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and reflect on the enormous number of articles about our cause, hopeful and soulful stories of personal triumphs, and scientific advancements, I am mindful that should Matt be struggling and in need of help, that a passerby would stop and kindly help him to his feet again.
Denise is the founder and president of the marketing and communications firm, DRA Strategic Communications. She also serves as a member of the Arizona Community Foundation Board of Directors and member of the Arizona Advisory Board of BBVA Compass.
The mother of a 24-year-old son with autism, Denise is the founder, president and board chair of First Place AZ (www.firstplaceaz.org), a nonprofit dedicated to developing new, innovative housing options for adults with autism and other ‘special abilities,’ and the co-founder and board member emeritus of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC, www.autismcenter.org), an internationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to autism research, education and community outreach and the support of individuals with autism and their families throughout their lifetimes.
Other nonprofit leadership includes serving as a member of the Autism Speaks Housing Committee, Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Leadership Council, National Association of Residential Providers for Adults with Autism (NARPAA) and the National Autism Transition Research Network Advisory Panel. Denise also served as a federally appointed member of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) of the National Institutes of Health.