The 150 strollers lined up in Central Park dramatized the ravages of a disease that has no cure. The 150 strollers were symbolic -- designed to drive home the impact of autism on America as we observed World Autism Day.
Autism afflicts one out of every 150 children in this country and both children and parents have to find ways to cope with this brain disorder.
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation for World Autism Day declaring that “policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped and we must ensure that everyone has the chance to live independently as full citizens in their communities.”
Robert Howley of Maplewood, N.J., is the father of an 18-year-old daughter with autism.
“It's been a constant challenge,” Howley told The New York Daily News. “You have to face it every day. It's something that never goes away.”
Bob Wright is the co-founder of Autism Speaks, an organization that campaigns ceaselessly to make Americans aware of the disease and raise money to fight it. Wright, who has an autistic grandson, describes the effects of the condition as “devastating” on both children and parents.
“We don't know yet how to cure autism,” Wright said, “but lives can be improved with therapy, especially if it's started early.”
The 11-year-old son of actress Holly Robinson Peete is autistic. She said autism threatens families. “My husband and I [with an 80 percent divorce rate for parents with autistic children] had to do a lot to keep our family intact.”
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that usually lasts through a person's lifetime. According to Autism Speaks, it is “more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.” It impairs a person's ability to relate to others. Among the signs of autism noted by this advocacy group are: “rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.”
Parents are often the first to notice unusual behavior. The disorder can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 3.
Autism Speaks has raised $200 million in four years. Much of the money has gone to further medical and treatment research.
The sight of those strollers in the park, the great need to find a cure should goad all Americans to confront this challenge to our health and well being. The children and parents need us.
As President Obama said: “For too long, the needs of people and families living with autism have gone unrecognized and underappreciated.”
America has fought and won public health battles before. I remember when polio seemed unbeatable. Sooner or later, autism and other seemingly unconquerable diseases and disorders will be conquered.