April is Autism Awareness Month

By Kristina Tober

April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s hard to think about anything but the COVID-19 pandemic or the economy right now, but I ask you to take a pause for a moment and consider how this crisis impacts families and individuals with autism.

Schools, vital behavioral, speech and occupational therapy — all canceled. That leaves families having to bear unassisted the load of caring for their children and adults with autism. And the burden is immense:

  • 1 in 54 children in the US has autism according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. Each one of those children (and adults) is unique, with different strengths and challenges, which is why autism is a spectrum disorder. There is no one-size-fits-all therapy and no cure.
  • Autism can cost a family an estimated $60,000 or more a year through childhood. The overall cost of caring for Americans with autism reached $268 billion in 2015 and could rise to $461 billion by 2025.
  • More so than parents of typical children and even those with developmental disabilities, parents of a child with autism have an increased risk for acute and chronic stress, and the resultant physical and psychological conditions.
  • It’s estimated 500,000 teens with autism will enter adulthood over the next 10 years. We are facing a tremendous lack of resources for these young adults, and the majority of autism costs in the U.S. are related to adult services.
  • It took until 2019 to get all 50 states to require meaningful coverage for the treatment of autism in state-regulated health plans.

I, like everyone else, desperately want life to return to “normal” — where people go to work, kids to school, and we can all find toilet paper in the store.

But I ask you to remember that the issues facing families with autism won’t go away. We won’t be able to check the box and assume the problem is solved, particularly in a world that has reached saturation with stress, physical, financial and emotional hardships.

In the last 20 years, we have seen a dramatic shift in terms of awareness, advocacy, and action. Multiple national organizations have become leaders in advocating for better laws and policies and pushing for research funding. Programs like Ascendigo here in the Roaring Fork Valley provide meaningful therapy and adult programming, while also leading the trend in promoting for the autism community enriching activities and sports that are more readily available to typical kids and adults. While we’ve seen significant progress with early diagnosis and intervention programs, autism remains an international health crisis.

Thankfully, Ascendigo is doing what they can to help families in the Roaring Fork Valley weather this viral storm. Families can contact Ascendigo’s Outreach Team at 970-927-3143 to receive telehealth services from Applied Behavior Therapists, Speech-Language Pathologists, and Recreational Behavioral Therapy or for other helpful resources.

So, what can you do to make a difference? First and foremost, stay healthy and be kind. If you know a family or individual dealing with the challenges of autism who is struggling to get through the stay-at-home ordinances, give them a call. We are all feeling isolated, but it’s exacerbated for families who bear the extra burdens of managing behaviors, trying to provide structure or are just desperate to sit down. Additionally, push yourself and others to always accept and include everyone who is unique — whether they have autism or not.

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