Four Golden Rules for understanding autism in NJ
New Jersey continues to have the highest rate of autism in the nation, with 1 in 41 children statewide now classified as on the autism spectrum. The group of developmental conditions now collectively known as ASD includes a range of symptoms, skills and levels.
It's likely that you've had a personal encounter with someone with autism within your own family, with neighbors, a classmate, a teammate or a co-worker.
In honor of this Autism Awareness month, here's a few rules of thumb based on some of the most widely held misconceptions and assumptions.
1) Knowing one person with autism, means you know *one* person with autism.
Everyone is still an individual.
The spectrum is wide. Autism NJ notes in its latest Community Report, “People with ASD share some similar symptoms, such as difficulties with social interaction and communication. Many have highly focused interests and/or repetitive activities."
Just how ASD affects a person’s functioning depends on the severity and combination of symptoms being experienced.
2) Being "on the spectrum" and nonverbal does not mean a person lacks intelligence, or even a sense of humor.
According to the CDC, nearly half of all ASD children have average to above-average intelligence.
While someone with autism may not react much to a spontaneous, social-based joke, there's a good chance (and research showing) that rhymes, funny sounds and slapstick humor still will be appreciated. (Who doesn't like slapstick?)
3) Teens and adults with autism are just as in need of support as children with autism.
There's still plenty of ground to be covered once ASD individuals "age out" of NJ's youth resource system. On a national scale, 35-percent of young adults with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. Local progress on that front includes Project HIRE by The Arc of New Jersey.
Autism NJ has put out a new housing guide for families living with disabilities. Just last month, the group put out its extensive manual for "The Supports Program." It aims to provide services for adults living with their families or their own unlicensed homes.
4) The world is a better place when more people have empathy in public places.
Families living with autism are some of the most compassionate, hard-working and inspiring people you will ever encounter. Parents, siblings and other relatives are often dealing with stress and emotion that would immobilize others.
So, when you see a child making noise, or maybe avoiding eye contact in a store, at a ballpark or a movie theater, think twice about shaking your head. It could actually be a big win for that family in reaching another social milestone.
Proud Jersey Girl Erin Vogt's first reporting gig involved her Fisher Price tape recorder. As a wife and momma of two kiddies, she firmly believes that life’s too short to drink bad coffee. A fan of the beach, Dave Grohl and karma, in no particular order.