By Congressman Michael Turner
There are approximately 1.5 million people in the United States of America living with autism. According to the Ohio Autism Taskforce, approximately one in every 250 children born in the United States is diagnosed with autism. Eighty percent of individuals living with autism are under the age of eighteen. Statistics suggest that the number of children being diagnosed with autism continues to increase, and is likely to continue rising over the next several years. The Autism Society of America has designated April as National Autism Awareness Month in order to highlight the increasing need for awareness about autism.
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that impairs cognitive, communicative and social interaction. Throughout our community and across the country, the autism community is working to help raise awareness and educate the public about autism and the issues facing the autism community.
Although there is still a great deal to be done, Congress has taken important steps towards raising awareness about autism spectrum disorders. The House Autism Caucus, of which I am a member, has worked to focus on increasing the general awareness of autism spectrum disorders as well as educating Members of Congress on current and future research initiatives regarding autism. The Caucus also serves as a forum for the discussion of autism-related policy issues.
The House Autism Caucus is working to advance several pieces of legislation that provide funding for autism research, education and early detection services. This includes the “Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act” of which I am a cosponsor. If enacted, this legislation would authorize $350 million over five years to improve currently existing services and increase services available to individuals living with autism. The legislation would provide assistance to both children and adults.
At the local level, there are many groups and resources available to provide assistance and support to parents, families, and friends of children and adults living with autism. Our community is home to a group called S.P.E.A.K. (Supporting Parents and Educators of Autistic Kids) that provides a variety of services to autistic children and adults. S.P.E.A.K meets approximately once every month or six weeks to provide support and information. They also undertake projects such as bringing experts in autism to the community to share valuable information, therapeutic approaches, and other resources that might be helpful to children and adults living with autism.
S.P.E.A.K. is based out of Clinton and Highland counties but also has members from both the Dayton and Cincinnati regions. S.P.E.A.K. is hosting an Exceptional Achievement Ceremony on April 24 from 6-8:30 p.m. at Hillsboro Elementary School located at 500 U.S. St. Rt. 62 in Hillsboro. Outstanding students and educators who serve as a resource to autistic children, adults, and their families will be recognized from a five county region. Those interested in learning more about S.P.E.A.K. or the upcoming Exceptional Achievement Ceremony should contact the Hopewell Center in Hillsboro at 937-393-1904.
Facing autism and its challenges requires all of our help. During National Autism Awareness Month, we should consider the 1.5 million Americans and their families who are living with autism. I look forward to continuing to report the positive contributions these families are making in our community and to continuing to advocate for legislation that is important to families in the autism community.
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