The Autism Society, comprised of parents and professionals, wants to make sure that individuals with autism, their families and professionals have the resources and support system needed in order to learn how to live with autism, a complex developmental disability that affects a person’s communication and social skills.
Because there is no known cause of autism and it can affect people differently, it is considered a “spectrum disorder.” Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) and Rett’s syndrome are all considered autism spectrum disorders. As such, autism can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
That’s why the Autism Society was founded, in 1965 by Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., upon a mission to “increasing public awareness about autism and the day-to-day issues faced by individuals with autism, their families and the professionals with whom they interact.” The Autism Society began as an organization of parents, and in over 40 years the organization has grown to become the primary source of information and research about autism that is still comprised of parents and professionals. There are more than 120,000 supporters and members of the Autism Society and over 130 chapters across the United States.
One thing that sets the Autism Society apart from other autism organizations is their options policy. The focus of this policy is the belief that there is no one program or method of treatment that will be beneficiary for all individuals with autism. As autism is something that affects each person differently, the treatments for each person must be tailored to their needs. The best treatment for those with autism is what works for them best as an individual, not what works for a general majority of people with autism. The Autism Society has exceptional interaction with the individuals with autism as well as their families and physicians. Family participation in this lifelong treatment process is pertinent, and the Autism Society helps these families on a daily basis.
The Autism Society’s national office is located in Bethesda, Maryland, but there are five community chapters in the Maryland area, one community chapter in the Northern Virginia area, and one chapter located in D.C. Every chapter is led by a group of parent volunteers, care providers and other professionals who provide local services to individuals with autism, their families and professionals in the area. These chapters are a huge part of the Autism Society’s grassroots movement to advocate awareness in communities, and they have community fundraisers and events all-year long.
The Baltimore-Chesapeake Autism Society of America chapter, which serves Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the State of Maryland, provides support, information and advocacy for individuals with spectrum disorders and their families for the Baltimore area. The BCC-ASA serves community members by offering specific support groups such the Adult Autism Support Group, support groups for siblings of autistic children, the Towson Social Group for adults with spectrum disorders, and the Asperger Adults of Greater Washington. There is also the POAC of Central Maryland, which is a training, support and advocacy group that educates families about Applied Behavior Analysis programs, a type of treatment for children with autism. The BCC-ASA meets on the first Thursday of every month at 7pm.
The D.C. Chapter of the Autism Society was organized by a group of parents who are dedicated supporters of individuals with autism and other developmental diseases. DCASA’s focus is to support individuals with autism, as well as their families, and promote that people with autism and their families deserve respect and a high quality of life. One activity that makes DCASA unique is their creation of a summer camp for children and adults with autism that is a week-long residential program. To eligible for the summer camp, the camper has to be at least 7-years-old, a member of the Autism Society and a member DCASA. By offering this week-long opportunity, children and adults are gaining better communication skills, increasing self-confidence and independence, increasing opportunities to form meaningful relationships, participating in groups and increasing their awareness of others’ needs. DCASA also offers monthly meetings that host speakers from varying agencies in the educational, health and social service fields.
The Autism Society of Northern Virginia chapter offers individuals with autism and their families the resources and support necessary to lead a high quality of life. AS-NV stresses the importance of recognizing and respecting the rights of parents as the primary caregivers of children or family members with autism. The AS-NV also hosts autism awareness campaigns at schools and community events, as well as going to elected officials to obtain funding for autism research. AS-NV organizes monthly events for AS-NV members and families that accommodate to the individuals with autism as well as family members by offering a fun and relaxing event to socialize.
The month of April is National Autism Awareness Month, a month that has been dedicated to spreading awareness and educating the public about autism since the 1970s. There are many way to get involved during the month of April, but the Autism Society makes it easier to be involved year-round by offering annual and monthly events that individuals on the spectrum and their families can enjoy.
Every year, the Autism Society hosts a conference in order to address the issues individuals with a spectrum disorder and their families deal with. At the conference, participants get the opportunity to network with thousands of professionals and parents from all over the United States who can help educate families and individuals on the spectrum about autism and other spectrum disorders. Those with spectrum disorders also have the opportunity to connect with other individuals with spectrum disorders and listen to their life stories. The 2012 Autism Society National Conference and Exposition will be held in San Diego, California from July 25-July 28.
AMC Theatres also teamed up with the Autism Society to show Sensory Friendly Films once a month in participating theatres that are in “safe and accepting environments” for individuals on the spectrum. To create this kind of environment for movie-goers, the participating theatres will have their lights brought up, the sounds will be softer, families can bring their own gluten-free and casein-free snacks and there will be zero advertisements or previews showing before the movie. Also, AMC’s rule of complete silence during the film does not apply during these sensory film shows so that people are welcome to get up and walk around, talk and sing.
The Autism Society also makes it possible for families and individuals with autism to share their own stories about living with autism. “Share Your Story” gives families and those with autism the chance to see that they are not alone when dealing with spectrum disorders. There are hundreds of 300-word stories on the organization’s website showing how people with autism have excelled in school, perfected a certain talent and have had lasting relationships with others outside of their family. The organization also has a program called “Share Your Art” where individuals on the spectrum can submit their artistic works to the Autism Society’s online exhibit.
Individually, a supporter of autism awareness can make a difference through the “Vote 4 Autism” and “1Power4Autism” programs. “Vote 4 Autism” keeps supporters, families and individuals with autism up-to-date with the goings-on in the state and federal government. This program allows people to contact their local legislators and explain views about autism legislation and how it affects those with autism and their families. “1Power4Autism” is a program that recognizes the impact one person can have on a community and a national effort to spread awareness about autism. People have walked and biked across the United States for autism using this grassroots program, and many more have been starting community events to initiate a greater level of awareness.
Autism has been a mystery for millions of individuals and families dealing with this spectrum disorder. It has the ability to isolate people and create unneeded stress and frustrations, but because of organizations like the Autism Society, things can be easier for individuals on the spectrum and their families. Ensuring individuals with autism and their families have the support they need is a constant effort supported by advocates, volunteers, parents and professionals of the Autism Society, and with more support in the future, there is hope that autism and other spectrum disorders will not be such a puzzle in years to come.
Read the published copy (with photos!) of this article on page 18 of Washington FAMILY Magazine’s April 2012 Issue: