April is National Autism Awareness Month - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

April is National Autism Awareness Month

(Source: MGN) (Source: MGN)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

One in 68 children is now affected by autism, that's a 30% increase from just two years ago according to the CDC. While April is autism awareness month, for families and those affected by the disorder, raising awareness is a lifelong mission.

"Autism is a neurological dysfunction, language impairment, they have difficulties interacting socially but they are by no means retarded and I hate that word," Leisha Smart said.

When Leisha Smart's son was diagnosed with autism in 2004, she had no idea what autism was, so she educated herself so she would know how to help her child.

"It's been a journey, we've had a lot of challenges but he amazes me almost every day," Smart said.

Smart's face lights up when she talks about Barney, she describes her 13-year-old son as well-behaved, loving and smart.

"Autism is not a disability, it's just another ability."

And Barney's teacher, Erica Dunwoody, can vouch for that.

"I see the world differently, the longer I study autism and the more I'm with my kids and I see the world differently," Dunwoody said.

Dunwoody says the world is different for people who are different, and we can help by simply understanding.

"There's something they want, or something they need or there's something they're trying to communicate and as a family member or community member if there's something we can do to help meet that need then let's do it," Dunwoody said.

The special education teacher says families like Smart's are on the front line facing an uphill battle, and support and compassion can go a long way.

"Sometimes it's just as much as a smile or if a child is melting down in a grocery store, keep walking, don't stop and stare if that momma's got it, that momma's got it," Dunwoody said.

Both women agree that it's imperative to educate yourself about autism and educate others.

Just to give some perspective, when Smart's son, Barney, was diagnosed ten years ago the statistic for children affected by autism was at one in 150.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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