April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. The word “acceptance” was recently added, better reflecting the goal of inclusion, diversity, completeness and our core human connections to one another. And the Autism Alliance of Michigan would like to include yet another “A” to the description of this important month in our community: Action.
According to the Centers for Disease Control one in every 44 children is affected by autism spectrum disorders, with boys being four to five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls — over seven million people in the U.S. are on the autism spectrum. There are an estimated 50,000 individuals living with autism in Michigan, approximately 16,500 are school-age children. Furthermore, autism affects people from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
The Alliance works to educate and expand acceptance and inclusion for individuals with autism, which is critical to ensuring those in the autism community can access what they need to live rich and fulfilling lives. To that end, we focus on three strategic areas: reducing the age of diagnosis; inclusive, equitable and high-quality education; and increasing employment and post-secondary educational opportunities. Through our MiNavigator program, we provide professional consultation and connection to services and supports and empowers caregivers to advocate for loved ones affected by autism.
Hiring individuals with autism is an untapped resource for Michigan employers. Up to 85 percent of autistic adults with a college education are unemployed, and over 70 percent of adults with autism are underemployed or unemployed. Given the current labor shortage, employers could benefit from expanding their pool of applicants through inclusive hiring practices. Autistic and neurodiverse individuals bring significant skills that can be harnessed when supported by inclusion and accommodations.
Two years of pandemic lockdowns, school and business closures, and other disruptors have been especially difficult for individuals in Michigan’s autism community, where structure and routine are often critical and communication, social and/or sensory challenges are typical. Individuals with autism frequently have less ability to understand and implement safety precautions in ways neurotypical individuals can. For some, wearing a mask is impossible, while others may have difficulty communicating symptoms of illness.
People with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from COVID-19. Unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, 17 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 20 times more likely to die.
Following the release and accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Alliance joined statewide partners in advocating for COVID-19 vaccination in the autism community. Protecting people with autism through safe, effective and free vaccines is the best way to for the community to return to the routines of daily life, critical to all of us, but even more so for people with autism.
To that end, we are launching a $1.5 million, three-year education and engagement campaign to heighten statewide health and wellness opportunities for individuals in Michigan’s autism community.
Awareness, acceptance, and action — all are vital to improving opportunities for inclusive education, employment, housing, healthcare and long-term services and support for individuals with autism — no matter where they are in life’s journey.
Colleen Allen is CEO and president of Autism Alliance of Michigan.
Originally posted by The Lansing State Journal.