There are alarming new numbers about the growing number of children with autism: now 1 in 88 and even higher for boys at 1 in 54. We go inside a local autism support group to show that an autism diagnosis does not mean that life is put on hold and that dreams can still be reached.
Sitting across from each other, two teens role play as if they are in a college classroom sharing notes. It is a seemingly simple conversation between the pair, but this setting is different and these skills not so simple for these teens, including 18-year-old Kristopher Adams, with autism. "People need to see us for who we are and not how we act," he said.
Autism is a developmental disorder, affecting the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. Parents typically notice the red flags around age three. Kristopher's mother, Melissa recalls, "He was hyperactive, he liked to stare at ceiling fans, he liked to play alone."
The latest numbers from a telephone survey by the federal government show that the biggest increase in autism is occurring in mild cases, like Kristopher's, along the spectrum of autism disorders, as opposed to children who are severely withdrawn socially and often unable to speak.
For the past eight years, Shantele Guidry with Family & Youth's Autism Support Alliance, has worked with Kristopher and his autistic peers on basic skills from greetings and introductions to job interviews and college classes. "We are taking these tasks that you and I do naturally and they come innately to us and we're breaking them down to even smaller tasks," she said.
One exercise in this day's support group is writing down the positives of your personality, something that has forced Kristopher to see himself through a different lens. "First of all, I am human," he said, "I am your brother. I am creative, I am smart. I enjoy friendships just as much as the next person. I have feelings."
Those feelings can be a battleground for these young men, all enrolled in college and pursuing their dreams of a more independent life with autism.
For Kristopher, his dream is to work behind the scenes in a path lab. "This way, I don't have to interact as much with people as a doctor would, but I still get to help them get better," he said.
There are seven different support groups for the five parish area through the Autism Support Alliance, from ages three on up. There is even a girl's group. Click here for more information.