April Shines a Light on Autism Awareness

A blue hand print decorates the inside of the word Autism. April 2 has been the world Autism day for the past eight years.

A blue hand print decorates the inside of the word ‘Autism’. April 2 has been the world Autism day for the past eight years.

Jessica Phillips and Sav Simpson

As April makes it’s appearance on calenders across the world, it brings along with it Autism Awareness Month; dedicating an entire month to educating a nation on a cognitive disorder that affects 1% of the entire world’s population – with each of it’s cases being completely separate.

Recent statistics have painted a horrifying picture into the minds of growing families everywhere. Studies have shown that every one in sixty-eight births in America will result in a diagnosis of Autism as the child grows older – varying in degrees of severity, case-by-case.

Lori Jenkins, junior English teacher, has a son with autism. Jenkins said, “People say that if you have met one autistic kid, you have met one autistic kid, because all of their cases are so different.”

In Jenkins’ particular case, her son, Neyland, has a more severe case of Autism. Jenkins shared that when she and her husband discovered the diagnosis, they were overwhelmed. “It’s like experiencing a death,” Jenkins said as Neyland watched videos of school buses on her computer, “You have these ideas of what your child will be like: they’re going to play baseball, then it’s just gone.”

Jenkins admits that she was scared, “I was so afraid that I’d have a son who would never want to hug me or hold onto me.” Almost immediately, Neyland calls to Jenkins from across the room, “Mom!” and she smiles at him, “I think what makes him unique is that he [is able to] show and has feelings… he is very affectionate; a lot of Autistic kids aren’t affectionate.”

Jenkins case is one of many lucky ones, where the child’s disabilities are limited to only a few motor skills rather than multiple at a time. Aforementioned, each case of Autism differs drastically from the last.

Students with moderate forms of Asperger’s/Autism walk among those at Ola High who are labeled ‘neurotypical’. Many of these students are straight A, well-involved students who attempt to do their best each and every day in the classroom. Additionally, many of these students are characterized in ways that would never suggest that they have a mild cognitive disorder, and choose to remain silent about their slight disadvantage. 

… I’m who I am. That’s what makes me special. ”

“I’m kind of quirky. I like cartoons and I have a dry sense of humor. I love playing creative mode on Minecraft a lot. I like art and drawing a lot – that’s what makes me special,” A sophomore, female told us. She got excited when the Simpson asked to see her drawings, her face lighting up when Simpson showed particular interest.

Jenkins explained the behavior of a person with Autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. “They tend to fixate themselves on things,” She explains, nodding at Neyland watching school buses, “For Neyland, it’s school buses, Angry Birds, and Peppa Pig. While for another child in his class, it’s clocks.”

“I try to think things over. If I’m really committed to something – to learn something – I always take a moment to let it sink in. I don’t talk, I am eager to learn, and if someone doesn’t talk, they are able to listen more,” A senior, male said. “My goal [is] wanting to be more aware.”

In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in June of 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed, meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed. (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed.) Additionally, Shuttack reported in 2012 that 35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school.

“[What keeps me going] is my vision of my future and my goal of graduating high-school, and the love of my family. Seeing them – even with their own quirks – I think it’s good how we’re doing well financially. With their support, I can graduate high-school, I can have a future. I can have everything that I need.” The senior, male commented.

Often times, in more severe forms of autism, a child may not be able to develop relationships or communicate with people – even family members. Autism is only shed in a dark light, with only severe cases being reported on. April’s Awareness month is intended to shed a light on the fact that not each case is the same. That each Autistic child is not like the other.

“[What makes me special] is that I’m who I am. That makes me special,” a freshman, male said. “I’m strong in my faith.”

Jenkins said, while holding Neyland close that, “The diagnosis may terrify you, but at the end of the day, they will always be your kid. They will always be yours.”