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Moving beyond autism awareness

Kathryn Kao

April 6, 2016

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Athens, Ga. – In celebration of National Autism Awareness Month, members of the Athens community are invited to learn more about autism's complex nature by attending Automatic for Autism's free movie screening and discussion panel at Ciné on April 19 at 5:30 p.m.

The event features "Autism in Love," a critically acclaimed feature-length documentary that was included in PBS' Independent Lens series. Released in 2015, the film explores the lives of four autistic adults as they pursue and manage romantic relationships.

All funds raised through this initiative will go toward a lending library of devices that families in the community can check out for their children before deciding to invest in the technology.

"There are a lot of stereotypical views about what autism is and how people with autism engage their communities," said Kevin Ayres, a special education professor in the University of Georgia's College of Education. "People with autism can develop strong relationships despite the core challenges of autism." 

Since the manifestations of autism affect all individuals differently, finding the right treatment option can be a challenge for specialists in the field.

In fact, one of the core deficits with autism is the difficulties individuals have with verbal and nonverbal communication.

"For many individuals with autism, technology-aided communication, [like] augmentative and assistive technology, can help them communicate with their friends and family," said Ayres, who also serves as co-director of the College's new Center for Autism and Behavioral Education Research.

Unfortunately, the cost of raising an autistic child in today's society is astonishing, ranging from $107,000 annually from ages zero to five to $88,000 yearly once the child turns 18.

To address these funding issues locally, the Chamber of Commerce's LEAD Athens program launched a campaign in 2014 called Automatic for Autism. With the help of supporters, an endowment for the University of Georgia's Applied Behavior Analysis Clinic was created for individuals in need of clinical support and treatment.

Last year, the campaign raised over $25,000 to help offset costs for families who cannot afford the necessary clinical support for their children. But despite these developments, the neurological disorder's highly variable nature remains little understood by the larger community.

"Autism awareness is something that came around in the early 2000s," said Ayres. "I think we are all pretty aware of this thing called autism, but it is time we start moving beyond awareness and toward greater understanding."