Autism awareness month is coming to an end for 2020. Most of my days of the year are spent working with children, adolescents, adults and their families who are affected by autism spectrum disorder. I facilitate several trainings each year related to autism, participate in resource fairs, attend meetings, participate on boards and in groups related to autism and write books, book chapters, and articles on the subject. I find that I am well integrated into awareness, education, and providing services every month of the year, not just April.
I have worked with countless children who have a more severe impairment regarding the manifestation of their autism disorder. These children may have no or limited verbal ability, may be lacking many skills, behind in many developmental areas, and have co-occurring issues such as Intellectual Developmental Disorder and/or genetic disorders. These children and families often struggle to find adequate educational services and professionals (mental health and otherwise) who feel confident and willing to work with them. When I began working as a mental health professional, there were very few other mental health professionals working with the autism population. Through the years many mental health professionals have begun to provide services for children with autism who are less impaired (the traditional Asperger’s child). This has also improved with other professionals and educators. Although this is a welcome improvement for part of the autism spectrum, those with a more severe impairment continue to be vastly undeserved.
Every child on the spectrum faces real challenges but there is an unfortunate reality I often see for those children who have a greater impairment; a reality where therapists, educators, organizations, friends and family members are “passing” on working with these children. I hear many reasons for this – “He is not a good fit here,” “We are not equipped to handle her issues and behavior,” “It is not safe for the other children here,” “We are not trained to work with his needs,” etc. Many of these reasons are likely legitimate, but legitimate or not, where are the services for these children and families? Where is the educator or the professional or the friend to help these children? So many parents are facing an unimaginable level of stress, anxiety, and isolation and many of their children are experiencing the same. Logic would follow that children and families who need the greatest services would be the most likely to be able to access services, yet this is not the case.
As another autism awareness month passes and we continue into 2020; maybe this year will bring a greater trend in working with those who have a more severe impairment – more educators, more mental health professionals, more support agencies, just more! No matter who you are or what your status, we can all strive to be more aware, more empathetic, more understanding, and in whatever way we are gifted, make better efforts to serve these vulnerable children and their families.