Erin Thomas and Jeannie Long of the Sahuarita-Green Valley Family Support Network discussed autism, its prevalence, some identifying features, and interacting with those who have autism.  The Network, which has been around for about two years, provides support to families down the I-19 corridor to Nogales, including talks about coping with autism and monthly events, promoting inclusion of autistic people into our community.
 
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of developmental disabilities that cause significant social, communication and behavioral changes.  Psychiatrists, psychologists and other medical doctors diagnose autism using the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V), primarily through use of behavioral characteristics and questionaires.
 
In 1997, about one in 10,000 people were diagnosed with autism.  By 2012, that number was one in 88, and recently was estimated at one in 40.  Autism does not discriminate by gender or ethnicity, and there is no cure so people cope with autism throughout their lives. 
 
Truths about autism include:  therapy can help provide improved control; people with autism have feelings and can be affectionate; some use speech as their main form of communication and others do not; many are highly sensitive to loud sounds and bright lights; no two autistic people are exactly alike; and the causes of autism are not known, but there may be a genetic link. 
 
Myths about autism include: all people with autism are stupid, and autism prevents people from learning (56% of students with autism finish high school); autism is a result of poor parenting; and vaccinations cause autism.
 
When interacting with someone with autism, here are a few recommendations:
·      - Dim the lights and turn down (or off) the background noise;
·      - Do not move quickly;
·      - Do not make jokes or use sarcasm;
·     -  Use Person-Centered Language (i.e. Joey has autism, rather than Joey is autistic);
·      - Don’t be offended if they do not look you in the eye;
·     -  For those with communication difficulties, consider asking yes-no questions, and use more gestures than n- Be aware of your body language;
 
·      - Have sensory toys for children with autism.
And most of all, have patience.  For more information, go to www.AutismSocietyGreaterTucson.org.