Yongsan walks for autism awareness during community fun fair
USAG Yongsan — U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan Child, Youth & School Services held a Community Fun Fair on April 2 at the Child Development Center parking lot to celebrate Month of the Military Child and National Autism Awareness Month. The Fun Fair included inflatable bouncers, games, foods, face paintings, taekwondo and a ballet performance.
During the annual Community Fun Fair, participants went on a walk around the area to promote more accurate understanding of autism and celebrate the meaning of the month.
It has been nearly a quarter of a century since the Autism Society established the month of April as Autism Awareness Month. Still, autism is an unfamiliar concept to most people. According to Melissa Natter, an autism specialist for Department of Defense Dependents Schools Korea and a guest speaker for the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is neurological and describes significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. ASD is now diagnosed as a spectrum disorder, meaning that a diagnosis can vary from one end of the spectrum to another.
“In essence, no two diagnoses of autism look the same,” said Natter. “Current research is focused on determining a cause for autism, although that is still unknown today. However, we do know that once diagnosed, early intervention is key to helping individuals with autism acquire the tools and strategies that will best help them live a fulfilling life.”
Natter also mentioned that ASD currently occurs in approximately 1 in 68 children and is 4.5 times more likely for boys to be diagnosed than girls. Although a diagnosis of a child can be made as early as 18 months, there is currently a trend of diagnoses being made at older ages, which is difficult considering the benefits of early intervention.
Though there is an ongoing debate on whether the proper approach to autism is cure or acceptance, the latter is the message advocated during the walk.
“Like I mentioned, no two people with autism appear the same. However, there are some frequent characteristics that people with autism display. Difficulty with social interactions, difficulty with communication, and sensory processing difficulties are some of the main characteristics. We see people with autism that are non-verbal to others that may have verbal language, but struggle with the ability to use their language appropriately in various situations. People with sensory processing difficulties may experience difficulty with any of their senses. You may recognize that someone has autism, or it may appear as a ‘hidden disability’ where you don’t even recognize that the person has autism.”
The walk was coordinated by the EFMP with Natter’s assistance. In addition to the walk, visitors could visit information booths at the fair and pick up pamphlets and books about autism.
As the crowd scattered after the walk to enjoy other activities, they walked away with at least one autism awareness puzzle piece and balloon in their hands. “It is important to realize that autism is a part of our community, no matter where we PCS to,” said Natter. “It is also important to remember something called ‘people first language’. People first language explains that a person with a disability is first a person and should not be identified solely by his disability. Therefore, there are ‘people with autism’ in our communities, not ‘autistic people’. It is important to respect all people and not identify and label them by their disability only.”