We sat down with Wendy Fournier, President of the National Autism Association, to discuss what she wishes people truly understood about autism, National Autism Awareness month, and the viral sensation behind a “I Am Odd”, a poem written by a special boy named Ben.
1) Tell us briefly, or in depth, about some of the outreach or fundraising campaigns you did for Autism Awareness Month 2016?
Throughout the month of April we shared hundreds of posts through our social media networks focusing on educating the public, bringing attention to important — but often overlooked — issues, and sharing inspirational milestones submitted by parents and caregivers in the autism community.
2) What is the one thing, or primary things, you really wish that people understood about autism?
People with autism are just like anyone else. They’re intelligent, they have feelings, they want friends and even though many cannot communicate verbally, it doesn’t mean that they have nothing to say – or that they cannot understand what others are saying to them, or about them.
3) What is something that often surprises people about autism?
When you look past the outward signs of autism, you discover an individual who is intelligent, loving and pure of heart.
4) Can you share a really incredible or meaningful story with our readers that stood out to you during Autism Awareness month 2016?
A family submitted a beautiful poem written by their son, Benjamin that we shared on our Facebook page. The poem is called “I Am Odd.” The post went viral and was shared by media outlets around the world. It’s awesome.
5) How has technology affected the autism community in recent years (for example, iPads or similar devices improving education and communication)?
In the past, non-verbal individuals had to use picture cards or extremely expensive and bulky voice output devices to effectively communicate. The iPad has changed everything in that respect. Many of our kids are extremely tech-savvy, so using an iPad for communication or learning is very easy for them.
6) Have there been any really interesting recent developments in our understanding of autism (perhaps scientific or neural discoveries as to what causes it, or effective forms of treatment)?
No. Sadly there are still far more questions than answers. Our federal health agencies have been failing miserably to address cause or treatment.
7) How can people with autism, or family members, best find and utilize support? What is a good, or suggested, starting point?
Based on personal experience, networking with other local families is priceless. An autism diagnosis can be overwhelming. It’s okay to ask for help. Lean on others to guide you through what can be an exhausting journey of fighting for services, support, education plans, therapies, medical appointments and more. Take a breath and remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t forget to take care of you! And of course, reach out to the National Autism Association. We’re a parent-run organization, and we’re always here to help!