In the United States, one out of every 88 children has Autism.
In New Jersey, however, that number jumps to one in every 49 children, according to Debbie Schmidt, a mother of a child with autism and a presenter for Autism Awareness Week at the College.
Events on Monday, April 1 kicked off Autism Awareness Week, a tradition that was started just two years ago.
“I believe autism is an experience,” said Shridevi Rao, associate professor in the department of special education, language and literacy and graduate coordinator for the special education graduate programs. “We need to peel the layers and try to understand how people with autism experience the world and engage with the ways in which this experience is different from or similar to ours.”
According to Richard Blumberg, director of the Center for Autism at the College, preparations for Autism Awareness Week began in the fall of 2012. Preparations included inviting presenters, creating visual representations, fundraising and planning a variety of activities.
“The mission of TCNJ is to prepare this generation to change the world,” Blumberg said. “Autism awareness is about everyone being involved in that change.”
The week consisted of a parent-professional panel, the presentation “Representations of Autism in Films: body, behavior, identity and presence,” the presentation “What does Autism Look Like?” by Just 2 Moms, a human puzzle piece, and more.
According to Rao, the assumption
of many people is that people with autism don’t want friends and want to be alone. In fact, many people believe that these autistic behaviors are purposeless. However, while some of these assumptions can be addressed through activities that promote awareness, it is very important to interact with people who have autism in order to gain a better understanding.
Christy Carlson and Schmidt both advocated bringing autism awareness to people of all ages at their presentation on Wednesday, April 3. In 2007, the two began their nonprofit organization, Just 2 Moms, in order to provide education and awareness of autism at elementary schools.
“Autism is a neurological disorder. It starts in their brain and it means they might think a little different than someone without autism,” Schmidt said. In fact, Asperger’s is “like not having a filter on your mouth.”
According to both moms, kids with autism and Asperger’s simply notice different things than other kids, and promoting awareness is the first step in gaining acceptance from other children. They both stated that, as parents, the main goal of Autism Awareness Week is to increase awareness, educate the community and foster advocacy.
“(Autism Awareness Week) provides a wonderful opportunity to challenge some of the preconceptions about autism and appreciate autism as a part of human diversity,” Rao said.
In the upcoming year, both Rao and Blumberg hope to see more involvement of the College’s faculty and students during Autism Awareness Week. They also hope to get the outside community involved and have presentations by people with autism.
“We have a lot to do in terms of making the world a welcoming place for people with autism and their families,” Rao said. “Autism awareness helps to promote this goal.”