World autism day spreads awareness in a time of uncertainty

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QUAD CITIES, Iowa (KWQC) - Thursday, April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. It's meant to bring awareness towards people who are living with autism, the challenges they face in their life, and the strengths they bring to the community.

"Especially at a time like this where they're more isolated socially and they're not being able to have their regular routine. For many people who have autism, that's very important in their life. So I think it's good to highlight those kinds of things, as well as the wonderful contribution that people with autism have in our community," Molly Steil Rowland, Home and Community Based Services Coordinator for Hand-in-Hand in Bettendorf, said.

While the amount of changes over the last several weeks have been difficult for a lot of people, this change can be especially challenging for people with autism.

COVID-19 restrictions are keeping more families at home and children with autism may find it hard to adjust as family routines are disrupted, social activities removed, and professional support decreased or eliminated completely.

"I definitely think that lack of routine is very difficult for someone who thrives on routine. Many of our individuals who have autism and are on the autism spectrum, really do thrive on that routine and certainty and knowing what's next," Steil Rowland said.

When speaking with someone who has autism about the uncertainty in the weeks to come, focusing on the facts is important.

"Stay ground in the facts. Stay grounded in what we know and speak in terms that they can understand. That they can handles. Let's not overwhelm anybody whether they're neurotypical or not. The idea that let's not overwhelm ourselves with the unknown," Christopher Banks, President & CEO of the Autism Society of America, said.

During this time, as we wait for the threat of the novel coronavirus to pass, establishing a daily at-home routine for your family can be useful.

"I'm a parent myself and it's about keeping that routine at home. Establishing some kind of expected time-frames for your day. And then incorporating things that they really enjoy," Steil Rowland said.

According to new information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 54 children are now diagnosed with autism by age eight, with boys more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

One of the challenges teenagers with autism face as they enter adulthood is a high rate of unemployment.

"Approximately 80 percent of college aged educated individuals with autism are unemployed or underemployed. We need to address that. [Addressing that] is good for our economy, good for our country if we look at that and recognize they have skills and talents, we should be hiring them to use for our organization," Banks said.

Research has also found nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.