04/03/2012 05:12 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2012

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

Most of us have heard the old saying that April showers bring May flowers... but April is also the month designated as Autism Awareness Month. Yes, during April a month-long effort is made to raise awareness about this disorder. Let's look at some of the facts.

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.

In the Unites States, one in every 88 children is diagnosed with some form of autism. With boys that number is even higher with 1 in 54, and in girls, 1 in 252, meaning boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Some feel this disorder is growing at an epidemic rate as every 20 minutes someone is diagnosed with autism.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the world, growing at a rate of 10-17% annually with children and adults with autism find it difficult or impossible to relate to other people in a meaningful way, may show restrictive and/or repetitive patterns of behavior or body movements, and often have some degree of mental retardation.

However there is hope. There are nonprofit organizations as well as individuals who are working to make sure schools, research and other related services are available.

Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago is one of the leading providers of 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 School and Center are the first phase of a four-phase plan to build a campus dedicated to providing assistance and help to those individuals and families affected by this condition.

To learn more, check out the following links:

Autism Speaks

The Autism Society

TACA (Talk About Curing Autism)

Many retail stores dedicate resources and raise money to help those affected by disabilities including autism. The grocery store chain Dominick's dedicates the month of April to raising money via the checkout by asking customers if they would like to make a donation to help those affected with disabilities including those with autism.

Some well-known personalities are also involved in providing support to those individuals and families affected by autism. Ozzie Guillén, current manager of the Florida Marlins and former Chicago White Sox manager, became involved by raising money and serving on the Board of Directors for Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago. The Chicago White Sox organization contributed $1 million to the effort to establish the campus.

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, a Chicago-born actor and one of the stars of the CBS hit show Criminal Minds, is the national spokesperson for Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago.

Here are five tips that can help you in being aware of how to support those affected by autism:

• Learn more about all aspects of autism and the spectrum; this can be done by reading and searching on the Internet for information

• Offer to help a family who has a child with this condition; 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

• Make a financial donation to a nonprofit organization that works to help children and their families affected by autism

Volunteer at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago or another nonprofit organization doing work in this area; join Easter Seals today in educating and informing public officials about issues that affect individuals with disabilities.

• Find a local chapter for information and referral services, conferences, workshops, recreational opportunities and local advocacy. For support and guidance, find a chapter near you

Bonus Tip: When was the last time you babysat? Many of us have fond memories of doing this in our youth. Consider helping a family who has an autistic child by volunteering to babysit giving the family a night off or out!

If we really think about it, all of us probably know individuals and families affected by autism. It is only by working together as a community, as well as funding the research and facilities that provide help, will we be able to deal with this disorder that affects so many in our community. By coming together, we can and will make a difference!