Shining a light on autism

One out of 110 school-age children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Given these numbers, it is likely that you know someone who is affected by autism.

An invitation from Geri Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and research professor of Psychiatry at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Please join me and thousands of others around the world in shining a bright blue light on autism by wearing blue on April 1 and 2. This is one way you can show your support and increase awareness of autism.

People with ASD have difficulties in social interaction and communication, and tend to have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. Autism is not one condition; rather, it is many conditions with many different causes, which include both genetic and environmental risk factors.

When autism is identified at an early age and appropriate early intervention is provided, children with autism can make substantial gains and learn to communicate and interact socially. With appropriate intervention, many children with autism are able to attend a regular classroom, learn to speak and develop friendships.

ASD affects each person differently. Some individuals are highly verbal and experience mostly social challenges, while others are nonverbal and unable to live independently. Some people are affected by medical conditions such as seizures or sleep disorders.

Although most people think about autism as a condition affecting children, the challenges are typically life-long. A half-million adolescents with ASD will be entering adulthood over the next few years.

New research on the biology of autism is pointing toward novel treatments, including medications that could help address the core symptoms of ASD. Each year, Autism Speaks provides $25-30 million in research funding to discover autism’s causes and effective interventions. In fact, several scientists at the University of North Carolina are conducting Autism Speaks-funded research on topics ranging from infant screening to animal models to clinical trials that are assessing new behavioral and medical treatments. This research offers hope for the many families struggling with autism in all of its forms.

The diversity of the presentation of ASD is just a part of the awareness we hope to raise this year on World Autism Awareness Day by shining a light on autism. We want more people to appreciate the lives of those living with autism, both in terms of the daily challenges and the celebrations of special abilities and milestones achieved.

Saturday, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day, dedicated in 2007 by the United Nations to raise awareness about autism throughout society and to encourage early diagnosis and early intervention. On Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2, we will light the world up blue to raise awareness and show support. Landmark buildings, hospitals and schools around the world will change their lighting to blue.

Please join us at work and at your home by wearing blue, changing your porch light and hanging a sign to show your support.

Read more information about how to light it up blue.

Learn about UNC autism researchers unraveling clues, developing interventions.