HOHENFELS, Germany -- Students, Soldiers and community members banded together to create a human facsimile of the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon on the Hohenfels Middle/High School sports field, April 24, as part of Autism Awareness Month.
HMHS students wore different colored t-shirts by grade to simulate the various colored puzzle pieces of the official ribbon, and Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment outlined the whole creation in their black uniforms.
"As U.S. Army Soldiers, a lot of us joined thinking we wanted to serve our country in some capacity," said Pfc. Angel Acosta. "Sometimes it doesn't feel much like service when you're just maintaining equipment or something, but here is a perfect example of us being good Army role-model Soldiers. We're coming together as a community saying 'we're all in this together.'"
Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism generally appears before a child reaches three years of age, and usually persists 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.
"It's not just autism," added Terry Giles, Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator. "There are people with anxiety, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and we want to demonstrate to all of those people that we have a supportive community, regardless of what needs you might have."
Giles said it was important to involve the school because in some cases if a child seems different than the majority, they may get picked on, bullied or ostracized.
"If we can help people understand that maybe that individual might just have different issues, then we can be more supportive and help them acclimate or still be a friend," Giles said.
According to the Autism Society's webpage, the different colors and shapes of the ribbon's puzzle pieces represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition.
"I think it also represents that people are all different puzzle pieces and yet we can all fit together and make society work," said Giles.
"All of us have something we're dealing with, and we don't want to be singled out or made fun of because we do something that's different from everybody else," he added.
Spc. Frank Molina said he especially enjoyed taking part in the event because his cousin has autism and he understands how important it is to raise people's awareness of the challenges involved.
"This feels like home," he said.
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.