Celebrating National Autism Awareness Month

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and on April 2, the global community celebrates the twelfth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Per Autism Speaks, international monuments, buildings, and homes will be lit with the iconic light blue hue in recognition of those living with autism. Today’s movement alters the conversation from treating those with autism as a separate, distinct and segregated population but rather the acceptance and inclusion of those on the spectrum into our “neurotypical population.”  Companies in Silicon Valley like SAP, Microsoft, among others, are hiring employees on the spectrum and showcasing this very important—and very successful—trend.


While the world celebrates and shines a light on this important day, many are still in the dark about how autism affects families, learning, and socialization. To help illuminate this often confusing condition, The Phoenix Center has assembled a guide of frequently asked questions to empower parents and newcomers with vital information about autism.


What are the early signs of autism?

It’s important to remember that there is not one type of autism, but many.  This means the conditions associated with autism are wide-reaching; it is truly a spectrum disorder. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, autism is a broad term for “a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.” Each person’s case is determined by a number of genetic and environmental factors, granting each individual their own set of strengths and challenges. Frequent signs of autism often manifest around ages two or three including few big smiles or immediate signs of engaging, warm expressions; using very few words in communication; avoidance of eye contact; difficulty understanding other people’s feelings; consistent, repetitive behaviors or physical habits; and unusual or intense reactions to certain textures, colors, lights, or sounds.


Is there a medical test that can be done to diagnose autism?

There is no blood test to classify autism; instead, doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. Developmental screenings and comprehensive diagnostic evaluations are performed in order to determine a final diagnosis.


Will my child have a normal education?

The first thing to consider is nixing words like normal — it implies that some children are superior to others and creates unhealthy stereotypes. All children deserve access to supportive, nurturing educational environments, and students with autism are no different. As a private New Jersey school with a robust and experienced staff, The Phoenix Center is a unique and distinguished school that has long served not just student’s education, but also their parents, families, and long-term goals. Speak with one of your district case managers, explore our website, or give us a call for more information about our programming.


How prevalent is autism?

Autism and ASD are more common than one may think: according to the CDC, “autism affects one in 59 children in the United States today.” In New Jersey, that number jumps to one in 34. Because of this relatively high statistic, many believe that autism has been on the rise, but the likelier truth is that scientific research has improved allowing more people to be correctly diagnosed with autism. This is an important statistic to consider as stigmas around autism often spread when people fail to consider how prominent autism is — and as a rather common condition, it’s important to discuss its meaning and normalize its presence instead of ostracizing those with it.


What other conditions associated with autism should I be aware of?

Children with autism are eight times more likely to have some kind of gastrointestinal disorder, and as many as one-third of children with autism have epilepsy. It’s important to establish a long-lasting relationship with a specialized doctor who understands your child and can be of assistance through their upbringing. Like with your child’s clothing, sleep habits, and foods, find a medical professional your child is comfortable with to establish trust and confidence.


At The Phoenix Center, we understand that the challenges that come with an autism diagnosis can be overwhelming for a family — this is why we must continue to work to provide the accommodations necessary for people with autism (and their families) to rise to the true level of their potential.  Challenges aside, it’s equally important that we push for acceptance and inclusion for individuals with autism, and shine just as bright a light on the incredible contributions they make in our communities.