According to a new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). New Jersey has the highest rate in the country of children with autism with one in 45 children having a form of autism.
To raise awareness about the disorder, the College’s Center for Autism, which seeks to help support families and children with autism as well as educate the community and campus about ASD, held Autism Awareness Week. From Monday, April 7, to Thursday, April 10, the Center held a fundraiser, showed a movie and had experts speak to teach people understanding and acceptance of the disorder.
“We strive for a world in which inclusion is the norm and people understand and embrace each other’s differences,” senior psychology and special education dual major and Center project assistant Jennifer Pote said. “This includes differences in cognition. Autism is classified as a disability, but it also comes with a whole new outlook as well as incredible abilities — this is true of every disability. We want people to focus on expanding their knowledge and tolerance as opposed to increasing pity or ‘fighting for a cure.’”
Another goal of the week was to raise much-needed funds for those with ASD.
“We also do want people to understand the amount of resources needed to appropriately accommodate a student with autism’s needs — educationally, socially, technology, medical bills — which is why fundraising is important,” Pote said.
Pote believes the week’s two lectures and film helped in the Center reaching its goals.
“Other goals were of course for people to learn something and feel empowered, which I think was also accomplished at both of the talks, as well as the film, ‘Black Balloon,’” Pote said. “We learned about where treatment, acceptance, understanding and education of people with autism has started and how far it has come and how far it has left to go.”
The progress that is still needed was especially seen during Richard Blumberg and Jerry Petroff’s presentation, Pote said. Blumberg, special education professor and director of the Center for Autism, and Petroff, special education professor and the Center’s associate director, discussed their recent work in Africa with the Ghana Autism Project. National Autism Speaks speaker and author Kerry Magro also gave a funny and moving talk.
“It was just a great presentation and everyone’s reactions were really positive,” Pote said. “People were still talking about it after — goal accomplished. He was funny, talented and informative. He was open about his struggles with social skills, speaking, certain subjects, fine and gross motor abilities and emotions as a child and says he is still working on learning more every day.”
Magro was an example of how far someone with ASD can go.
“When no one thought he’d even be able to fully talk he impressed everyone by not only doing that, but also by being a fantastic basketball player, being a famed national speaker and author and by helping Hollywood writers and directors cast actors to appropriately and accurately represent people with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders,” Pote said.
Pote hopes that next year’s week will be even bigger and that the events will continue to have such a great turnout.
“People should go to next year’s Autism Awareness Week to continue to promote inclusion, support the movement for disability rights, advocacy and celebrating human unique-ness,” Pote said. “My main hope for next year is that more people will have a better understanding of what autism is.”