YONGSAN GARRISON --It has been decades since the Autism Society has deemed the month of April as Autism Awareness Month as a means to promote the cause. Still, autism remains to be an unfamiliar concept for the majority of the general public. In order to promote correct understanding and celebrate the meaning of the month, members of U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan go on a symbolic walk around the Child Care Development Center parking lot during the annual Fun Fair, April 11.
According to Lisa Yenter, the Exceptional Family Member Program manager, many people automatically call to mind the character Raymond Babbit, who was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie "Rain Man" when thinking of autism. As much as the actor was acclaimed for accurately depicting the general habits and symptoms of someone who faces the challenges of autism, many make the mistake of thinking that this is the only standard of the neurodevelopmental disorder. In fact, there are many dimensions that are often overlooked.
"Every person who has autism has it to a certain degree, and it is very individual," said Lisa Yenter. "We really have to accept each person for who they are -- their strengths and their challenges."
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, it has been identified that 1 in every 68 American children are on the autism spectrum, and the disorder affects tens of millions worldwide. Though there is an ongoing debate on whether the right approach to autism is cure or acceptance, the latter is the advocated message during the walk.
"We need to topple the stereotypes and misconceptions of what we think autism is because it prevents us from properly reaching out to these individuals," stated Yenter. "It is my hope [through this walk] that more people can start perceiving autism, not as a negative thing, but a positive thing where it signifies an area of improvement just like any other challenge that 'normal' individuals face."
Besides the walk, an information booth was set up during the fair where people could visit and receive not only goodie bags, but also books and pamphlets that contribute to the cause.
"I have siblings that have autism, so I feel close to home," said Pvt. Krystina Colon, 19th Personnel Company, who was volunteering at the booth. "Acceptance is definitely hard, but once you get to know people with autism they're the most wonderful people you'll ever meet, and they're very smart. A lot of times children with autism are conceived as being really wild, but the more you get to know them, they comfort you in ways you would have never imagined."
Both young and old who gathered for the walk left with more than what they came with.
"I think the cause is important," said Jessica Santos, a young student who attends Seoul American Middle School. "I think I will be more interested in reaching out to friends with autism if I ever get a chance in the future."
Though the crowd dispersed after the walk to enjoy the rest of the fair, they all had at least one Autism Awareness balloon in their hands.
"As long as we keep on educating people about what autism is, along with what it really isn't, more and more people will be able to focus on the strengths rather than viewing it as something negative," concluded Lisa Yenter.
"The more people with autism are treated like everybody else, the more we can do to make a difference in changing the trend and creating an atmosphere of acceptance."