The Faces of Autism: A Thank you!
First and foremost, I just want to thank you all for your support in this project. Thank you for the families that participated, thank you to those that followed the stories of these amazing kids, thank you to those that shared to help spread Autism Awareness and Acceptance. The response I have gotten, from comments, posts, and private messages is amazing and incredibly humbling.
This project is very personal to me and I started it last year to show anyone who would listen that Autism doesn't have a look. You can not tell by looking at photos that a child has Autism. Every single person with Autism is different. They may have similarities, but they are not identical. Just like with everyone else in the world. The Faces of Autism is therapuetic for me, and from what I have seen and heard, it may be the same from the parent's whose children are featured. Although I have a FANTASTIC support system between my family and BisMan Autism Families, it is so great to hear from others.
Current statistics are that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with Autism. You can read all over the internet the reason why such staggering diagnosis rates. I personally believe it is about better diagnostic criteria more than an actual huge rise in people having Autism. That is to say that there are many older people out there that have Autism but are not diagnosed. Boys are almost 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder that girls, with approximately 1 in 42 boys being diagnosed. That doesn't necessarily mean that boys are more likely to have Autism, recent studies are showing, but the diagnostic criteria is more tailored to boys on the Spectrum as a large number of girls present differently.
We have all seen the cost of raising a child reports. The cost to raise a neurotypical child is roughly $13,000 per year (that is about $234,000 from birth to age 18). Well, for a family with a child with Autism, the average cost per child is more like $107,800 per year up to age 5, and roughly $85,600 per year between ages 6 and 17 if there is an intellectual disability. That brings the average total of raising a child with Autism and an intellectual disability to $1,566,200. Among children with no diagnosed intellectual disabilities, the costs are a bit lower, but still much higher than with a neurotypical child, approximately $63,290 per year for those 5 and under, and $52,205 per year for those between 6 and 17. This means that raising a child with Autism can range from $942,910 to $1,566,200 over the course of their childhood. This is why state and federal programs are so very important, this is a huge financial burden that even the most prepared people can drown under. Programs like North Dakota's Autism Waiver, which serves children birth through age 9.
As with any delays, early intervention is key. Studies have shown that children who have had early interventions have continued to gain and grow years after Early Intervention services have ended. I highly encourage anyone questioning whether their child is developing typically to get a free screening through Right Track. It is FREE and can either point you in the right direction for help and services or ease your mind. I am a HUGE supporter of getting things checked out. I truly believe the earlier children are started with services, the more successful they can be. With MiKynna we started Early Intervention at 15 months old, as well as starting private Occupational and Speech Therapy at that same time. Yes, my 15 month old was getting 4 hours of therapy a week. And you know what? The only "what if's" I have are "What if we hadn't started these therapies? Would she still talk as well as she does today? Would she still know that she needs to go to a small, dark place when the world is overwhelming her?" I can live with those "what if's". So please, please, if you have any doubt in your mind, call Right Track if your child is under 3 (info is HERE) or if your child is 3 or older, call one of the many fantastic pediatric rehabilitative therapy places we have around town. I have yet to hear of one that doesn't offer a free initial screening. I, of course, will always point people to Red Door Pediatric Therapy, as we absolutely love them!
I have received a few messages asking me how people can help. The first and foremost is helping to spread Autism Acceptance and Awareness. I put "acceptance" first because I think the majority of people have at least a basic knowledge that Autism exists. Awareness is easy. Acceptance is the hard part. Accept the fact that people are different and we don't know what is going on in their life. The second thing is to stop judging so much, I know from time to time, even knowing what I know now, I can be guilty of this. That kid that is "freaking out", running around like crazy, or having a major "tantrum" at the grocery store? They might be in sensory overload and having an uncontrollable meltdown. So don't give dirty looks, don't whisper under your breath that the parent's should discipline their child. Instead, smile, offer assistance or a word of encouragement.
You have read me talk about BisMan Autism Families, and a few of the participants have mentioned it as well. Seriously, this group has been amazing for me. They are definitely part of my village, even those that I only know virtually. I am so grateful that I found them! They have recently accomplished becoming an official non-profit with many great fundraisers and events planned for the near and far future. I am honored to be a part of it all. If you suspect your child has Autism, or if they already have the diagnosis, I highly encourage you to join if you are in the general Bismarck/Mandan area! They have a private group "members only" as well as a community page to inform everyone about things going on and to help raise awareness and acceptance. If you would like to help support them in the meantime, donations can be made HERE and they are greatly appreciated.
So, once again, thank you to everyone. I look forward to next year's project. If you would like to participate, or know someone who would, feel free to contact me anytime and we will stay in touch until then!