THE BLOG
04/15/2013 04:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

Making a Difference: The World of Giving - April Is Autism Awareness Month

Did you know that autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder but is also the most underfunded? This April marks Autism Awareness Month, an entire month devoted to raising awareness about this disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one in every 88 children is diagnosed with some form of autism -- 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls, meaning boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Some feel this disease is growing at an epidemic rate as every 20 minutes someone is diagnosed with autism.

Autism is growing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent annually with children. Many adults with autism find it difficult or impossible to relate to other people in a meaningful way, many show restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior or body movements and often have some degree of mental retardation. This is also one of the most expensive disorders, having a lifetime cost of approximately $3.2 million per person and $60,000 per year for a family with an autistic family member. To be sure, there are people who will say the numbers are too overwhelming and that little, if anything, can be done to help change the course of this rampant disorder. I would argue there is a lot that you, the reader, can do and know that will cause a change to occur.

First, you should be aware there are numerous nonprofit organizations as well as individuals working to make sure schools, research and other related services are available to those affected by autism. Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 by grandparents who had a grandchild with autism. Their friend, Bernie Marcus, donated $25 million to launch the organization which focuses on funding research, preventative measures, treatments and ultimately a cure as well as a host of other services. They advocate on behalf of those affected with autism as well as their families.

Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago is a leader of providing services to those with disabilities including autism. Their Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research is one of the first in the country to specifically focus on autism research.

The Autism Alliance of Michigan was founded in 2010 and is doing amazing work. Anthony Ianni, a former Michigan State University basketball player who has autism, is one of its spokespeople sharing his story about achieving his lifelong goals. A high school friend of mine named Scott is a retired police officer. He leads the effort to educate other police officers throughout Michigan and other areas of the country about how to work with autistic individuals who might be witnesses to a crime or even the alleged perpetrator. Scott educates them on how to interact with individuals affected by autism.

Two additional nonprofit organizations focused on autism in various areas include the Autism Society and TACA (which stands for Talk About Curing Autism).

Many retail stores dedicate resources and raise money to help those affected by disabilities. For example, this year Build-A-Bear Workshop is offering an Autism Speaks bear. With each bear purchased, some of the proceeds are given directly to Autism Speaks. The Dominick's grocery store chain, through its parent company's foundation, the Safeway Foundation, is committed to raising dollars for people with disabilities in the month of April. They ask their customers when they are checking out if they would like to make a donation to help people with disabilities. Their employees give back, too! According to their website, last year they gave more than $9.2 million to nonprofits that provide services to those with disabilities including autism.

Celebrities are involved in helping raise dollars and awareness for this disease including Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Tony Braxton, Dan Marino, Adam Sandler, Adian Quinn, Doug Flutie and many more some of whom have children that have been diagnosed including Jenny McCarthy and Joe Mantegna.

Jenny McCarthy has used her own personal story of autism to provide help and hope for families around the world by establishing Generation Rescue.

Joe Mantegna, Chicago-born actor and one of the stars of the CBS hit show Criminal Minds, is the national spokesperson for Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, as his daughter is affected by autism. Check out what he has to say about autism and this school here.

There are many things that you can be doing to be Making A Difference (M.A.D.) for an important cause. Here are five (5) tips which will help you to be aware of how to support those affected by autism:

1. Learn more about all aspects of autism and the spectrum; a simple search on the Internet will provide a wealth of information. As a reference point, autism is a term to describe five (5) neurological disorders, often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder. These include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder -- not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.
2. Offer to help a family who has a child with this disease; make a meal, have a conversation, offer to visit... any of these gestures plus simply being available as a resource can and will make a difference
3. Make a financial donation to a nonprofit organization that works to help children and their families affected by autism
4. Volunteer at a nonprofit organization doing work in autism
5. Offer to babysit for a family who has an autistic child. Give them a few hours to do their grocery shopping, go to a movie, dinner, etc. with knowing their child is in safe keeping

Bonus Tip: shop! Many stores offer a portion of the purchase price of an item or allow you to make a donation. Be mindful this month about where you shop and choose vendors that are associated with helping those affected by autism.

If we really think about it, all of us probably know individuals and families affected by autism. By working together as a community as well as funding the research and facilities that provide help, we will be able to deal with this disease that affects so many in our community. If we all do something, we will be Making A Difference! What will you do to be M.A.D. today for those affected by autism?

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