Growing awareness

Awareness is a word encompassing a broad range of definitions and April is the month when it is paired with autism and efforts aimed at expanding autism awareness.

Autism, as Classical High School special education department head Christine Lyman observed during the school’s sixth annual autism awareness assembly last week, has no identified cause or cure at this time, but “…awareness continues to increase dramatically.”

Her words and the efforts by organizations, schools, individuals and businesses across the nation this month translate into hope for families with autistic loved ones. One in 50 children are diagnosed with autism, Lyman said citing statistics, and that number reflects a dramatic increase in autism awareness.

Increased awareness and a greater understanding of what is now almost commonly referred to as the autism spectrum translates into more opportunities for families to get help for their children and connect them with autism professionals.

Increased awareness also makes information on autism services available for families and makes service availability more accessible. Classical’s forum and a specialized Lynn Vocational Technical Institute (LVTI) class underscore COACh (Creating Opportunities for Autistic Children) techniques for helping individuals diagnosed with autism attain independence.

Classical forged a connection with COACh teaching methods in 2007 and the program is available, Lyman said, to Pickering Middle School and Shoemaker Elementary School students. LVTI’s brand-new Life Skills Lab and COACh combined forces to each autistic students how to live with varying degrees of independence.

Autism Awareness Month’s greatest value is its ability to corrode and ultimately destroy stereotypes and myths surrounding autism. Greater awareness is equivalent to shedding more and more light on stigmas and misunderstandings.

Once a topic that was whispered about or not discussed at all, autism occupies a limelight that shines attention on parents and advocates who spent years insisting their children and clients receive the care and resources they need to thrive.

Their hard work and refusal to be shunted onto a sideline changed the way autism is viewed in social service and education settings. That change, in turn, altered the way autism is regarded by people who hold public funding purse strings.

Classical’s autism assembly mirrored the Lynn public school’s commitment to expanding autism awareness. Top public school educators were on hand along with the skilled corps of experts providing school services.

At the heart of the assembly and Autism Awareness Month are the children and parents who refused to stand on society’s edges and who refused to accept “no” or “maybe” as an answer when they asked for services and the money to fund those services.

Autism awareness and increased independence for autistic individuals are the hard-won victories fought for by parents and their advocates and safeguarded by schools, including Classical, and the committed educators and professionals who work in them.

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