By Anne Dachel
In a press release Wednesday, it was reported that the Advertising Council, in partnership with Autism Speaks, would be launching a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) featuring Grammy award-winning recording artist Toni Braxton and her son, Diezel. The announcement said that "the purpose of these ads would would be to raise awareness about autism and to urge parents to learn the early warning signs of this developmental disorder, now diagnosed in one in every 150 children."
On the video, Toni Braxton tells us what the odds are of having an autistic child. She urges us to learn the signs of autism and visit the Autism Speaks website. (HERE)
Autism Speaks has been promoting awareness since its beginning in 2005, holding walks throughout the U.S. and getting publicity in the national media. They joined with the United Nations representative from Qatar HERE announcing the first World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2008.
Autism Speaks often compares autism to other health issues involving children in terms of rates and funding:
Leukemia: Affects 1 in 25,000 / Funding: $310 million
Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 20,000 / Funding: $175 million
Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 8,000 / Funding: $394 million
Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $130 million
Autism: Affects 1 in 150 / Funding: $15 million
To the general pubic, raising awareness sounds important. It tells us that this is something we need to care about, but it doesn't make autism seem like crisis. It's no real call for action. Awareness sounds a lot like acceptance.
What happens next? There are now hundreds of thousands of parents painfully aware of autism. Why isn't there a huge cry for answers? When does autism become a national health care crisis? How bad do the numbers have to get?
Why isn't the medical community following up on the countless reports that bio-medical interventions can recover autistic kids?
How long will we be hearing that one in 150 children has autism? As alarming as that figure is, reality is far worse. The CDC gave us that rate in Feb. 2007, but it was based on studies of eight year olds done back in 2002 and 2000. Those children are now 14 and 16 years old. This can hardly be considered a true picture of the autism disaster. In Minnesota, the recognized rate is one in every 81 kids. Others put the national average rate at one in every 67 children. Among the Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, the autism rate for American-born Somali children is one in every 28 kids. Despite these numbers, health officials still promote the claim that there's been no real increase, just "better diagnosing."
Findings by Michael Ganz at Harvard make a chilling prediction of the future economic impact of autism. Ganz projects that it will cost about $3.2 million to take care of ONE autistic person over his or her lifetime. His findings are felt by others to be a gross underestimate of the eventual autism price tag. (HERE.)
How long can we afford to simply raise awareness? We will soon have a generation of young, disabled adults to care for, in addition to the children being diagnosed with autism. This is an economic nightmare that will continue to get worse and worse. In the face of this disaster, why are we only calling for awareness?
The words of Laura Bono of the National Autism Association are a grim forecast for the future: "As those children reach adulthood, the U.S. is ill-equipped to care for them. Not only do we not have enough services for adults now, the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. Frankly, we don't know what we're going to do."
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.