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Amid higher autism rates, calls grow for community acceptance

Composition with different puzzles on wooden background. Concept of autism
Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com
Composition with different puzzles on wooden background. Concept of autism

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported one in 36 children around the U.S. has autism spectrum disorder. Rates are much higher than a decade ago and support organizations hope Wisconsin communities do more to make individuals feel welcome, including adults on the spectrum.

April is Autism Acceptance Month. Not only do advocates want to empower those with a diagnosis to live their fullest possible lives but they also ask those around them to learn more about it.

Katie Hess, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Wisconsin, said there are some key practices to keep in mind.

"Really, what we're looking for is for people just to be open-minded and patient, and understanding," Hess explained.

Acceptance does not happen only at home or school. Workplaces also are encouraged to foster more inclusiveness, with nearly 60% of people with autism now employed after receiving vocational services. Their advocates said they have many strengths and asking them about their needs creates a better environment for them.

Symptoms of autism can vary widely for each person on the spectrum, including how they interact with others. Hess noted whether individuals are considered "high need" or "low need," having the public pay more attention to the evolution of this disorder is vital.

"We're learning new information all the time, so certainly reach out to your local chapter, your Autism Society," Hess urged. "Ask questions."

Her chapter will soon begin offering a training program to organizations about how to become more autism friendly, including being able to identify a person on the autism spectrum and how to best offer ways to help if they disclose their diagnosis.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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