By Caroline Johnson, Core4ce
So, What is Autism?
Autism is usually associated with difficulty in social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, and adherence to routine. It can also be accompanied by sensory sensitivities and challenges with paying attention.
Facts About Autism from Autism Speaks:
- In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2016 data, including:
- 1 in 34 boys.
- 1 in 144 girls.
- Most children are diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.
- Autism affects children with a wide range of intellectual abilities:
- 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70).
- 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85).
- 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85).
- Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, although many minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.
- There is no medical detection for autism, so early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.
Best Buddies: A Personal Journey
When I was in high school, I realized I had a strong passion for working with people who have special needs. As a senior, I enrolled in a teacher cadet course. Part of the curriculum included working in the special education classroom where my admiration for those teachers grew. They had all the patience in the world and showed so much compassion.
Though I really wanted to become a special education teacher, I chose a different career path. So, when I wanted to find an organization where I could continue that passion, a sorority sister led me to Best Buddies. Their mission is to create opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
After volunteering for several months, I was paired with a wonderful 45-year-old buddy named Delmer. He loved Michael Myers movies and memorized my phone number right away so he could call me from time to time to chat about life. I would often meet him at the local bowling alley every Friday night as part of a local league. Delmer was a bit unsteady with a bowling ball, so we had a lot of fun in the process of supporting each other. The Best Buddies dances at the community center were the best when everyone got really dressed up. You could tell, it was a highlight of the year for so many of our buddies.
Through Delmer, I met Dana who has a son named Carter with autism. He became my second buddy in the program. Carter needed more social interaction outside his family and I learned about how people with autism handle unfamiliar things in everyday life. His mom wanted us to run errands from time to time so I could get him out into public more. I remember one time I got lost driving somewhere and he was very uncomfortable about it. I eventually found my way to the destination, but it was so easy for him to get upset and lose trust in me. In time I gained the trust back and I could tell by his choice of words and body language that he was beginning to feel more comfortable around me.
“Autism is not a disability. It’s a different ability.”
I learned so much from working with Delmer and Carter and, despite being a bit impatient, my experience with Best Buddies made me take my time and really think about things before I did them. Delmer had the biggest heart and just wanted to fit in and be part of the fun. Carter was shy and loved playing video games and telling me about his days at school. Looking back on college in general, these were both experiences and relationships I can look back on with a smile. They really looked up to me and I looked up to them as well. I recently reached out to Dana and Delmer’s sister, and I am hoping to connect with them some day when I get back near Virginia Tech.
What You Can Do to Support Autism Awareness
Learn more about Best Buddies by clicking here. Get involved by volunteering or donating to the cause. If you are interested in participating in the Autism Awareness Run/Walk in April, you can click here to sign up online!