APS Column: April is Autism Awareness Month

Published 4:18 pm Friday, March 11, 2022

By Sheri Willrodt

Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools and

Mary Barinka

Community Autism Resource Specialist

April brings many things, including sunshine, flowers, and warmth. April is also Autism Awareness Month.  The CDC now states 1 in 44 people are on the autism spectrum, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Most children are still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2. Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, though minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching. The timing and severity of autism’s early signs vary widely. Some infants show hints in their first months while for others symptoms become obvious as late as age 2 or 3.  Additionally, not all children with autism show all the signs, and many children who don’t have Autism show a few.

That’s why professional evaluation is crucial. Early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan. If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact the Help Me Grow Facilitator at www.helpmegrowmn.org, 1-866-693-GROW (4769), or the Austin Community Learning Center at 507-460-1705.

In addition to the supports available through the schools, community Autism programming was started in 2010 as part of the Hormel Historic Home’s mission to provide educational opportunities to all people. Qualified Austin Public Schools staff partner with us to provide this specialized programming to enhance the lives of those living with autism spectrum disorder. The HHH’s Autism Friendly Austin (AFA) initiative is now in its 5th year, and over 40 businesses and organizations have been certified Autism Friendly, having had training and ongoing support from Community Autism Resource Specialist, Mary Barinka.

AFA began in 2017, with a mission to promote understanding and supports for those with autism and special needs by engaging, training and educating our entire community.  The Community Autism Resource Specialist works with area businesses, service providers, and families to educate and advocate for those on the autism journey.  You can join our Facebook page at Autism Friendly Austin at the Hormel Historic Home.

The 12th annual World Autism Awareness Day is April 2.  Joined by the international community, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes, and communities around the world will sport light blue in recognition of people living with autism. Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month to increase understanding and acceptance and foster worldwide support.

Autism Friendly Austin is celebrating World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, April 2, with a Spectrum Celebration Day.  The celebration targets families with loved ones on the autism spectrum and will take place at the HHH from 1-4 p.m. Hyperspace Starcade will bring mobile video games, laser tag, virtual reality entertainment, and bubble fog. A light snack and drink will be served.Local resources and our autism camp information will be available. Cost is $10 per family. Registration for this event and AFA summer camps is now open online:   www.hormelhistorichome.org. Also, save the date for our annual Stepping Out for Autism Fundraising Walk on Sunday, May 1.

For questions or more information, please contact Autism@hormelhistorichome.org or 507-433-4243.