CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - I vividly remember my introduction to autism. Our Charlotte area chapter of Autism Speaks asked me to help host a kickoff breakfast to promote their upcoming fundraising walk. I had heard of autism, but honestly didn't know that much about it. I was told it was a developmental disorder, it affected 1 in 150 children and 1 in 94 boys.
I remember thinking 'wow, more people need to know about this.' It was 2008 and Autism Speaks was only in its third year of existence. A lot has happened since then.
The autism diagnosis rate has skyrocketed. It is now 1 in 68 and 1 in 42 for boys. Most people do know that now because of Autism Speaks. The organization raised the awareness level across the country. It also pumped millions of dollars into research looking for clues into causes, better ways to diagnose and therapies to treat. The progress has been real, it's been encouraging, but we have a long way to go.
The thing is autism isn't one thing, it's a spectrum disorder. Those diagnosed face social challenges, communication difficulties and often exhibit repetitive behaviors. The characteristics are mild in some, severe in others and every point in between. Consider autism by some of the numbers. 30% of those with the disorder are non-verbal, nearly half will wander, yet 45% have average or above average intelligence. Unemployment among adults with autism is 80%. It gives you an idea of the challenges.
Here's what really gets me. Autism doesn't just impact an individual. It impacts a family. Moms, dads, brothers and sisters. The average cost to care for an individual with autism is $60,000 per year. A lot of it is out of pocket expense. It's estimated the total economic impact was $268 billion in the United States last year. My point is these families are largely tapped out. They need support from the rest of us.
Consider what Autism Speaks means to us here in the Charlotte area. Since 2007, Autism Speaks has provided $574,189 in Family Services Grants to local providers. More than 2000 tool kits have been distributed to guide families who just got the diagnosis. And here's the big one, Autism Speaks has raised enough money to spend nearly $11,000,000 on research.
Bottom line, we can't promise you a definitive cause of autism, or a cure, but we can promise hope to million of families. More and more children are getting through school, more and more are able to work and more and more are becoming successful adults. It's a trend we can continue with your help.
The Greater Charlotte Autism Walk is October 22nd at zMax Dragway in Concord. You can join our WBTV walk team, or you just make a donation. I don't have much to offer, other than a thank you and a guarantee you'll have a great morning if you join us in person. Here's more on the Autism Walk and here's more on the WBTV and Me Walk Team where you can make a donation.
Thanks for being on the side of those with autism.