Education & compassion key in understanding autism - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Education & compassion key in understanding autism

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With no single cause or cure, Autism Spectrum Disorder can be a challenge to understand and new data shows the incidence of Autism has increased in just the past two years.  In honor of Autism Awareness Month, parents and special education teachers in the river region stress education, compassion and support.

One in 68 children are now affected by autism, that's a 30% increase from just two years ago, according to the CDC and 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," says Montgomery mother, Leisha Smart.

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," says Smart.

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," says Smart, recalling a newfound quote.

"I see the world differently the longer I study autism and the more I'm with my kids and I see the world differently," says Barney's teacher, Erica Dunwoody, a Language Impaired Special Education Teacher at Carr Middle School.

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," says Dunwoody.

Dunwoody has 8 students in her class, including Barney, ranging from 6th-8th grade with a wide variety of verbal and academic skills.  Dunwoody stresses the importance of language education.  She says if her students can identify who they are, who their parents are and their phone numbers, that level of communication can keep them safe when they go out in public.

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," she says.

Both women agree that its imperative to educate yourself about autism and educate others.  Just to give you some perspective, when Smart's son Barney was diagnosed 10 years ago, that statistic sat at one in 150.

For autism related resources in Alabama visit:

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