What we can learn on World Autism Awareness Day

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I saw the first post about it on Facebook this morning, and like many posts, I shamelessly ignored it and went about my day. But now, as I sit here at the Women’s Fund and begin working on the upcoming isolation campaign, a question pops into my head.

“Are autism and isolation related?”

autismMy first instinct was to research. I was shocked to see the thousands of scholarly, medical and opinion articles on isolation and autism. Even more to my surprise was the fact that not just those suffering from autism may feel isolated, but the families and parents raising an autistic child suffer from isolation. From the top search hits on Google, I learned that some are willing to call the internalizing of social and emotional difficulties of raising an autistic child “Autism Isolation Syndrome.” The constant worrying of autism and its various effects on children often consume the family and force them to put their social lives on the back-burner.

I also learned that for those suffering from the disorder, there are many challenging life stages. One noted in an article on disabilityscoop.com was the teenage years. After summarizing a study that surveyed 11,000 middle and high-school aged students with autism, a startling fact showed me the intensity of isolation that lives within autism:

“Nearly half of the students with autism said they never saw friends outside of school. Meanwhile, most indicated they don’t get calls from friends and are not invited to hang out.”

Thankfully there are proactive steps that many schools and programs are implementing to remove the barrier of isolation from the lives of those affected by autism. On a regional note, the New York Times recognized Madison public schools for including children with disabilities into regular classes. Families with autistic children move from all over the country to Madison for the opportunities provided to students with autism.

With the rising prevalence of autism in our country (Now 1 in 88 children are affected), I took to the families and friends that I knew to discover firsthand what it’s like growing up in a family with an autistic child.

Casey Witt, 21, of Gillette, Wis. notes how he sees the struggles his autistic sister, Nykole, 16, faces transitioning from home life to school life.

Nykole and Casey Witt

Nykole and Casey Witt

“As a family, we have always given Nykole plenty of attention, but I do feel that she feels isolated when she is at school because some kids might feel that she wouldn’t be worth their time to get close to since she in non-verbal and autistic,” said Witt. “Just because she expresses herself in a different manner and can’t communicate doesn’t mean she is a person that can’t have friends. It’s really sad because it is something she can’t help.”

For me, the significance of isolation in our community grows each day. Although much of the focus may be on the serious health dangers associated with isolation, we sometimes forget of the debilitating effects that isolation already has on those struggling with a disability or disorder like autism. So please, support a day like today and spread awareness of autism and isolation.

Written by: Taylor Cook, the public relations and marketing intern for the Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation.

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