April is National Autism Awareness Month and non-profit organizations such as Autism Speaks have paired with local and national sponsors to raise funds for their cause by promoting events such as 5k walks and collect donations at Gelson’s supermarkets.
Autism has been recognized as a medical condition since the 1970s, and affects one in every 110 children, according to Kris Gutierrez, a family support provider at Antelope Valley Family Focus Resource & Empowerment Center’s.
“It’s such an important cause and it hasn’t gotten the attention and support it needs,” Gutierrez said. “Especially grassroots organizations like us, where the money is put right back into services for the children.”
The Family Focus Resource & Empowerment Center is a non-profit organization that assists families with children, up to age 22, who have special needs, and has three branches serving the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys, according to their website.
The center is funded by the CSUN Michael D. Eisner College of Education and will host its 4th annual Autism Awareness Walk on April 7, at JetHawks Stadium in Lancaster. The center is expecting at least 1,000 attendees, Gutierrez said.
Autism spectrum disorder has risen 600 percent in the past two decades and is almost four times more common in boys than in girls, according to the Autism Speaks website, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.
“Autism spectrum disorder can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances,” the website says. “Some persons with autism spectrum disorder excel in visual skills, music, math and art.”
However, parents of autistic children who excel at complex online games should limit the amount of time their child spends on the computer, according to Christopher Mulligan, licensed clinical social worker and Groupsworks West founder.
Groupswork West is raising awareness for a lesser-known side of autism with their treatment center and group therapy sessions for autistic patients who suffer from cyber addiction, according to their website.
Too much technology—outside of the classroom—can be damaging because autistic children are more susceptible to becoming a victim of cyber addiction, Mulligan said.
“It plays into every conceivable vulnerability they have. It’s really a toxic problem. It’s as if they found a drug online that is free and legal and that no one cares if they use it,” Mulligan said. “I totally support media literacy in the autism community, but the problem is that’s not what’s going on.”
Children who suffer from autism are not the only ones affected – their families also endure the difficulties brought on by the disorder, according to Liberty Eunice, a young mother to a 3-year-old autistic boy.
“I constantly try different ways to get and keep his attention,” Eunice said. “He tunes out so much when he watches TV that we try to keep it off when he’s awake. I try to keep him in activities with kids his age as much as possible to help him come out of his shell.”
Many events aimed at spreading awareness will take place across the globe this month, including multiple fundraisers in Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
“We encourage people to come to the ceremonial Autism Awareness Walk on April 7, and stick around for the entertainment and resource fair throughout the day,” Gutierrez said.
WHO: Family Focus Resource & Empowerment Center
WHAT: 4th Annual Autism Awareness Walk
WHERE: JetHawks Stadium in Lancaster
WHEN: Sat. April 7, at 10 a.m.
WHO: Autism Speaks
WHAT: 10th Annual Autism Speaks Walk
WHERE: Rose Bowl Stadium
WHEN: Sat. April 21, at 10 a.m.
WHO: The L.A. Dodgers, Autism Speaks, Tommy Bahama
WHAT: Dodgers Autism Awareness Day
WHERE: Dodger Stadium
WHEN: Wed. April 18, at 5 p.m.
WHO: Whittier Area Parents’ Association for the Developmentally Handicapped
WHAT: Autism Awareness Walk
WHERE: Whittier High School
WHEN: Sat. April 28, at 10 a.m.
WHO: Gelson’s Super Market
WHAT: The Help Group Autism Awareness Fundraiser
WHEN: the month of April
WHERE: all 17 Gelson’s Super Market locations
WHO: Jersey Mike’s Subs
WHAT: Autism Awareness Fundraiser
WHEN: the month of April
WHERE: all participating locations
WHO: Autism Speaks
WHAT: 3rd Annual Light It Up Blue
WHEN: Mon. April 2, at sunset
WHERE: recognized globally