April Marks Autism Awareness Month

April 6, 2011

In order to emphasize the growing concern for those diagnosed with autism, April has been named Autism Awareness Month. Beginning in the 1970’s and carrying through today, people across the country have used the month of April to educate members of the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Children and adults with autism typically show developmental difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal communication, behavior, social interactions and many basic leisure activities. Autism is a spectrum disorder and it affects each individual differently and to varying degrees. The fact that there is such wide variation in symptoms and characteristics led to the concept of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Each year a growing number of children in the United States are diagnosed with autism and ASD. Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report stating that autism affects 1 in every 110 American children, and 1 in 70 boys. These numbers represent a 57 percent increase from 2002 to 2006, and a 600 percent increase in the past 20 years. Although it is still unclear whether the increased rate is because of better detection or real increases, the issue remains that more children and families are now coping with the disorder.

The cause of autism is still unknown and technically there is no cure. If detected early, however, there are many proactive measures that can be taken to reverse some of the characteristics of autism and ASD. Unfortunately these treatments can place a huge financial strain on the families working to help children and loved ones. In 2009 I co-sponsored a bill passed by the General Assembly, now pubic Act 09-115, that provides insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism and ASD. This law became effective in January of 2010 and took a major step forward in helping Connecticut families manage the costs of caring for a child with the disorder.

This year, the General Assembly is considering a number of bill proposals all seeking to support those with autism and ASD. One seeks to expand insurance coverage for Connecticut residents who carry policies with out-of-state insurers. This proposal would require out-of-state providers to offer the same coverage as in-state providers with regard to autism and ASD treatment. Another proposal before the legislature would require the Commissioner of Social Services to apply for a Medicaid waiver in order to allow for improved and earlier diagnosis and treatment of autism.

Cities, towns and businesses throughout the state have joined a global campaign to promote autism awareness by partaking in the ‘Light It Up Blue’ movement sponsored by Autism Speaks TM. Just in downtown Hartford you will see many prominent buildings shining a blue light throughout the month as a part of this movement. And closer to home, if you and your family are driving through the center of Simsbury, you will notice the blue light and a blue puzzle piece outside Eno Memorial Hall. The puzzle piece is a symbol associated with the disorder and reflects the mystery and complexities associated with autism and ASD. If you and your family are interested in being a part of ‘Light It Up Blue’ visit www.autismspeaks.org for more information.