Autism deserves our attention

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Everyday we are reminded of issues our state has not addressed.

April is Autism Awareness Month and is the perfect time to look at this growing health care crisis that deserves state government&8217;s attention.

There are many misconceptions in today&8217;s society.

One of those is that time heals all wounds.

Not necessarily … for families of children affected by autism and Asperger Syndrome time is of the essence. Until we find a cure for autism families need easily accessible, coordinated care. Alabama cannot let these families down.

Autism continues to grow at an alarming rate &8212; one out of every 150 children in Alabama are affected. The University of South Alabama reported last week that in their poll of 746 families, 80 percent of people in Alabama had some knowledge of autism and noted that families affected by autism need more assistance. That same percentage of people said that parents should not be expected to provide the needed assistance by themselves.

Almost everyone in Alabama knows someone raising a child with autism or with Asperger Syndrome.

They also know of the struggles families face when trying to obtain a diagnosis and/or services.

This shouldn&8217;t be the case.

Over the past year the Alabama Autism Task Force, with the support of state officials, public advocacy organizations and two statewide need assessment studies, has explored these issues in depth. The Task Force has made a series of 22 preliminary recommendations that will be shared with the legislature.

Over 30,000 families in Alabama are believed to be affected by autism and desperately seek a system of care to help them.

The system for these families hasn&8217;t failed, it just doesn&8217;t exist.

Individuals with autism and Asperger Syndrome become productive members of society when provided with the specific types of intervention they need.

To capitalize on the strengths of these individualso our state legislature needs to support the recommendations put forth by the Alabama Autism Task Force.

These recommendations include permanently allocating financial resources for Autism Spectrum Disorders, establishing an Interagency Autism Coordination Council, establishing Regional Autism Centers, and supporting education and training opportunities.

Autism isn&8217;t on the decline, it is on the rise, and we must give this disorder the attention it deserves not only for those dealing with it today, but also for future generations who will face this fight.

Studies have shown that early identification and intervention can make a major difference. Regionalizing services will simplify the process for parents and eliminate the time spent waiting for critical services that can make a vital difference in the lives of their children.