Austin goes blue for World Autism Awareness Day

Jourden Sander

In 2006, one in 110 children was diagnosed with autism. The number of children diagnosed with autism, though, is growing, and this year one in 88 children will be diagnosed. 

World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, attempts to educate society about autism spectrum disorders and how they affect not only those with autism, but those unaware of the disorder’s consequences. 

Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impaired social skills, repetitive behaviors or a restricted range of interest. Most often diagnosed in children, autism has no medical cure and no obvious reason for increasing in frequency. This mystery is what pushes Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism organization, to inform the public about autism. 

Autistic children commonly require occupational therapy, speech therapy or behavioral therapy. A person with autism will have it for their entire life, and while many people adapt to life with autism so that they can be part of society, they’re always going to struggle.

Autism Speaks will host the second annual Austin “Blue Bash,” a fashion show to raise money and awareness for the organization as part of World Autism Awareness Day.  

Additionally, Autism Speaks will encourage the world to “go blue.” This year, 5,000 buildings across the globe will use blue filter on the outside lights and encourage their employees to wear blue clothing to work. 

Olivia Derr, a volunteer for Autism Speaks Austin, said that organizations devoted to autism are several steps behind other causes. For example, physicians have been doing research on heart disease since 1915 while Autism Speaks was founded in 2005. Being a young organization, Autism Speaks’ sole purpose is to generate funds for research and promote awareness.   

Edith Henry, fashion editor for Austin Lifestyle magazine and coordinator of the fashion show at Blue Bash, said that more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS and cancer combined.

“The disorder costs families around $60,000 on average a year, and it receives less than 5 percent of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases,” Henry said. 

According to the Montana Autism Society of America, there is an unemployment rate of 81 percent among adults living with autism. These statistics are what push advocates at Autism Speaks to continue to educate the public about autism spectrum disorders.  

“As a community, and a community with employers, they need to realize these are people that can contribute but we have to work with them,” Derr said. “If there’s a balance between their skills getting better and society understanding what people can do with autism, employment opportunities might open up.” 

Traci Whitney, development manager of Autism Speaks Austin, who has an autistic son, said families in their situation need to seek out other families sharing the same experience. 

“Our family has weathered its share of challenges in raising our son, but we have experienced an exponential amount of joy as well,” Whitney said. “Autism is an invisible condition. Our son presents as most typical children upon first glance, so his eventual atypical behaviors in public bring a lot of challenges his way in terms of public perception, and our way as his parents.”

The Blue Bash fashion show will attempt to reach out to families who are struggling or who have questions about autism spectrum disorders. All the blue pieces of clothing will be auctioned off to raise funds for Autism Speaks’ research programs. Henry hopes the fashion show will draw in people who want to learn more about autism and help raise money for Autism Speaks. 

“When you think of the statistics, over a life time we’re all probably going to be impacted by Autism,” Derr said. “We’re hoping that people who don’t have autism in their families or their direct lives will open up to see why these people matter and how they’re part of our community.”