World Autism Awareness Day Celebrated in Blue

By Laurie Pike


On April 2, 2017, the 2017 World Autism Awareness Day was held with the theme of “Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination” to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to independence of person and to individual autonomy.  The second of April is an internationally recognized as World Autism Awareness Day.  It was passed by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2007 to raise awareness about people with autism throughout the world.  World Autism Awareness Day is one of only four official health specific United Nations Days, but it is not a public holiday.  This day brings autism organizations together all around the world to aid in research, diagnosis, treatment, and overall awareness.

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition and developmental disorder that manifests during early childhood mainly characterized by unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, high interest in specific subjects, routine challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.  Individuals with autism find social interactions difficult, have problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, demonstrate restrictive and repetitive behavior, and have limited sets of interests and activities.  Autism Spectrum Disorders (ADS) are a complex set of neurological disorders.  Individuals with ADS can range from having cognitive disorders to having typical or even above average intelligence.  ADS behaviors include stereotyped actions such as hand flapping, body rocking, insistence on sameness and resistance to change, and in some cases aggression and self-injury.  Between 30-50% of people with autism have seizures.  Sleep problems are common among children and adolescents with autism and may continue as adults.

The rate of autism all over the world is high and the lack of understanding has a huge impact on individuals with autism and their families and communities.  Autism affects girls and boys of all races and geographic regions irrespective of gender, race, or socio-economic status.  No one knows what causes autism and scientists are unsure if any environmental triggers may be involved in autism.  There was an earlier belief in the 1990s to early 2000s when vaccines were thought to cause autism, but this has since been disproven.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every sixty-eight children in the United States has a form of autism.  About one third of people with autism remain nonverbal and about one third have an intellectual disability.  Certain medical and mental health conditions accompany autism such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficits and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and phobia.

Diagnosis of autism occurs in early childhood when parents and providers notice that a child is not meeting developmental milestones.  The most effective treatments are early intervention and applied behavioral analysis, which includes occupational and physical therapy, and speech services.  There is no cure for autism and diagnosed individuals will require lifelong services.  Therapies and lifelong treatments can be enormous burdens and expenses for families of people with autism spectrum disorders.

On World Awareness Day, Autism Speaks celebrates with its international “Light It Up Blue Campaign” when thousands of iconic landmarks, communities, businesses, homes, and social media across the world unite by shining bright blue lights in honor of the millions of individuals and families around the globe affected by autism.  One of these iconic landmarks to Light It Up Blue for World Autism Awareness Day was the White House to embrace solutions for the diverse needs of the autism community and to come together as a nation to increase unity, understanding, and acceptance of children and adult with autism.  President Donald J. Trump issued a proclamation by virtue of the authority given to him by the Constitution and the laws of the United States to proclaim Sunday, April 2, 2017 as World Autism Awareness Day.  He invited all Americans to Light it Up Blue along with the White House.  He called upon all Americans to learn more about the signs of autism to improve early diagnosis, understand the challenges, and do what they can to support individuals with