HOHENFELS, Germany -- April is Autism Awareness month, and the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Army Community Services (ACS) and Hohenfels Middle/High School (HMHS) banded together to promote public awareness in a big way, April 25.
Roughly 300 HMHS students, faculty, and community members took part in creating a human replica of the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon on the HMHS sports field to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Normally, autism appears before a child reaches three years of age, and it generally lasts throughout their life. Classified as a "spectrum disorder," Autism has a variety of symptoms and characteristics that can occur in different combinations and varying degrees of severity.
"We wanted to bring the community together so they know there are people around us struggling with challenges, and we should be as accepting and patient with people as we can be," said Terry Giles, ERMP coordinator.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the prevalence of autism is on the rise, with cases occurring in one of every 88 births in the United States. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.
"The symbol for autism awareness is a ribbon of different colored puzzle pieces, so we tried to incorporate that by having the kids in different colored T-shirts," Giles said.
Each facet of the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon represents a different aspect of the disorder. As described on the Autism Society's webpage, "the puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope--hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and appropriate treatments, people with autism will lead fuller, more complete lives."
"I wanted to be here to show my support for our son," said Elaine McKibben, whose 9th grade son Zachary is autistic. "It's nice that the school thought enough about it to do this. My family was dead center of the ribbon."
The event was supported by the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, with the Falcon team flying a helicopter overhead and Viper team photographers on board to record the event.
"The whole idea is to embrace our differences so that we include everybody, because, really, we're all different," said Giles.
Though some parents may fear labeling their child as "autistic," early intervention is critical in order to gain maximum benefit from the existing therapies. As soon as autism is diagnosed, intervention instruction should begin.
The EFMP is designed to help military families with special medical and education needs to receive the support and assistance they require. If you have questions or concerns, contact your local EFMP office.