Lu Etta Loeber: Light It Up Blue: spreading autism awareness

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Autism changes everything. A rather bold statement on the surface. But it does.

There are lots of statistics in the media these days. A survey just completed revealed that 1 in 50 school-age children have an autism spectrum disorder — about one student on every bus. Since 2007, the rate of incidence has increased by 72 percent. Every 11 minutes, another person is diagnosed — more than childhood diabetes or Down syndrome. More boys have autism than girls, and the spectrum is broad. Older children now are being diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Because of the progress in the diagnostic and screening tools, some of our kids are being diagnosed later. This might account for some of the increase in numbers

The Yampa Valley Autism Program and Horizons Specialized Services are shining a light on autism by participating in World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. April is National Autism Awareness Month.

This has become a worldwide movement. Just as you associate pink with breast cancer, we hope you think blue with autism. Horizons’ house on Oak Street will be decorated in blue. Students in Steamboat classrooms will be wearing blue. Outside of Routt County, Aspen ski area will light up blue at dusk Tuesday, and even the Empire State Building’s top floors will be lighted in blue.

Our mission is to raise awareness by participating in Light It Up Blue, a campaign that focuses on starting conversations. People ask questions. Information is exchanged. People have a chance to educate others about the effect this disorder is having on our communities and our families. Awareness means more dollars for research to find a cause and a cure. Even more importantly, resources are needed today for therapies that are so vital for better outcomes.

It’s easy to participate. Tie a blue ribbon on the outside mirror of your car. Wear something blue to work Tuesday. Paint your porch light blue. Talk to a family that is experiencing an autism spectrum disorder, and ask them what they need. Go to www.autismspeaks.org for more information and ideas about how you can participate in Light It Up Blue.

Autism changes lives and family dynamics. The divorce rate in families that have an autistic child is 80 to 85 percent. Therapies are expensive, and accommodations must be made for the behaviors. Parents learn patience and to be more resilient, but the children often get bullied at school because they act differently. We can change that through information and public awareness about this disorder.

The Autism Program is working to maximize the possibilities for families through programming and services. You don’t have to have a firm diagnosis of autism to seek our help — we often find other resources or services that you might need. The important thing is that you call.

We are here to help. Find us on Facebook or visit www.yampavalleyautism.org. Please unite with us Tuesday to Light It Up Blue and spread awareness.

Loeber is the executive director of the Yampa Valley Autism Program.

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