Mayor’s Column: Autism Awareness Month

This year’s theme is “Celebrate Differences.”

April is National Autism Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Differences.” First declared by the Autism Society in April 1970, the purpose is to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all.

Autism is a complex mental developmental condition, characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with others. Autism can be present from birth or form during early childhood and has no single known cause.

There are many sub-types of autism, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person on the spectrum has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which they learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some on the autism spectrum may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. The Autism Society recognizes that the prevalence of autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 in 2020.

While no two people on the spectrum have the same set of symptoms, common characteristics include impaired social skills or problems interacting with others. Some children on the spectrum do not have adequate playing or speaking skills. Those on one end of the spectrum may exhibit clumsy behavior, being out of sync with those around them and use of inappropriate or offensive language. At the other end of the spectrum a person may not be interested in interacting with others.

Those on the spectrum may find it harder to show empathy to others, although they can be taught to acknowledge other’s feelings. In some cases, they do not like physical contact such as hugs, tickling or physical play. Those on the spectrum often display repetitive behavior in performing the same action many times over. Any change to their behavior or routine can be unsettling. Other characteristics of autism include an unpredictable learning rate, obsessions and physical tics.

2021 National Autism Awareness Month, #CelebrateDifferences, is designed to build a better awareness of the signs, symptoms and realities of autism. It focuses on providing information and resources for communities to be more aware of autism, promote acceptance and be more inclusive in everyday life. A better informed public will be more empathetic and supportive toward those on the spectrum.

SPEAK (Special Needs Parents Educators and Kids) of Voorhees is the parent-faculty association for families with children with special needs in the Voorhees Township Public School District. Founded in March 2009, SPEAK addresses issues impacting special needs children living in our community by providing support, encouragement and important information and education for families and others who may be involved in the care of a special needs child. For more information about SPEAK of Voorhees, including teaching resources, fundraisers and sponsorship information, visit www.speaksj.org.

For more information on National Autism Awareness Month, visit www.autism-society.org.

** On-line registration for the 2021-2022 Voorhees Township Public School kindergarten full day program opened on March 1. Any child who will turn 5 on or before Oct. 1, 2021 is eligible for kindergarten admission in Sept. 2021. Beginning March 1, pre-registration can be completed at genesis.voorhees.k12.nj.us/genesis/openReg. After the pre-registration is completed, a staff member will contact for you for additional information.

**The Voorhees Breakfast Rotary Club is holding a shredding event on May 1, from 9 a.m. to noon at Tab Shredding, 341 Cooper Rd., West Berlin. The cost is $30 for up to 3bags/boxes plus $10 for each additional bag/box up to 10. All proceeds will go to charity. Masks and social distancing will be maintained.

** Voorhees Township is offering discounted tickets to Morey’s Piers in Wildwood. Tickets are available in the Municipal Clerk’s Office at Voorhees Town Hall. Prices vary according to the type of ticket and several options are available to residents and non-residents. For more information about tickets, visit www.voorheesnj.com