(Photo Credit: Graphic courtesy of the Office of Governor Mike Parson) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — On April 2, the nation-wide autism awareness campaign, Light It Up Blue, kicks off in recognition of April as Autism Awareness Month. While the Exceptional Family Member Program at Army Community Service observes the month, the program hopes community members stay cognizant all year long.

Light It Up Blue encourages learning about Autism Spectrum Disorder, which helps to establish an environment where one is accepted for their abilities and not their disabilities.

ASD is a pervasive developmental disorder that involves abnormal development and function of the brain. People with autism show decreased social communication skills and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests.

According to Autism Speaks, a leading national organization on advocacy, ASD now affects about 1.8 percent of Americans. Over the years, the number of individuals diagnosed with ASD has increased.

This is not because ASD is a new condition, but because it is being diagnosed more frequently as medical providers are able to recognize the signs and symptoms at an earlier age and in the milder form.

ASD is a wide framework of different indicators and impairments that can readily be impacted by early intervention. People with ASD do not have any physical markers that identify them as having ASD, nor is there a lab test, X-ray or scan to confirm a diagnosis.

Diagnosis is based on a series of symptoms, behaviors and a combination of responses on empirically supported assessments. It is an individual’s behavior and how they interact or perceive their environment that sets them apart in general society.

Although it is widely known that people with ASD have above average intelligence, some have said their world is definitely concrete while trying to exist in a conceptual world, like a game where no one shared the rules or gave instructions on how to use the equipment.

Others think of ASD as a puzzle, where a person is trying to figure out how all the pieces fit. For many, things like social norms, understanding nuances and reacting appropriately to vague statements or requests become very difficult and almost prohibit the person from readily participating in the world as a whole.

We need to realize that when we meet one person with autism, that is it — we have met that one individual person with autism. Each individual is unique and has different indicators that add up to determine the level of severity.

The earlier the diagnosis, and the more engaged families are with comprehensive supports, therapies and strategies, the more readily the person and family are able to decrease the negative impact.

Genetics may be a contributing factor. If one family member has been diagnosed, the possibility of another family member having ASD increases. In addition, ASD appears to affect boys more frequently than girls. It does not appear to be affected by financial or environmental factors, or by the configuration of a family unit. That being said, ASD does not discriminate, and it impacts both the individual and family members.

As with many things in life — a situation or condition can either be viewed in a dark, dim light or in a bright, positive light — Light It Up Blue suggests placing ASD in a positive and unique light. Some use AUTISM as an acronym: Always Unique, Totally Interesting and Sometimes Mysterious.

To learn more about autism, or to speak with someone about information, resources or programs available to people diagnosed with autism, visit the EFMP at Army Community Service, located in Bldg. 486, or call the office at 573.596.0212.