Members of the community joined Tillsonburg Mayor John Lessif, Dr. Lisa Dalby and her son Matthew Crotty for World Autism Awareness Day in downtown Tillsonburg, Tuesday afternoon.
The day was recognized in Canada for the first time since the United Nations declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in 2007.
In Tillsonburg, as in many communities across the province, the day was marked with a flag raising, a few words and a balloon release.
“This is a global issue, it does not discriminate – race, class, income, it can affect anyone,” said Dr. Lisa Dalby, event coordinator and a family physician at the Tillsonburg Medical Centre.
There is currently no known cause, however, it is believed that a person is born with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which manifest symptoms as a child grows. ASD impacts the natural development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with ASD typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction and leisure or play activities.
Today instances of Autism are increasing and it is estimated that over 100,000 people living in Ontario are on the spectrum.
“More recently, 1 in 50 children are on the spectrum - that has impacts for education, for employment, for resources and for their future,” said Dalby. “People need to be aware, perhaps accommodating and educators need to know because these children can learn. They may learn in a slightly different way than the typical child, and employers need to be aware because these people can work and function very well, especially the higher functioning people.
“Without any acceptance, accommodation or knowledge, right now over 80 per cent of adults over the age of 20 on the spectrum are said to be unemployed,” she added.
Unfortunately, stereotypes for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ADS) still exist today.
“I think part of the issue is that it’s a neuro-developmental or a brain issue, so people behave slightly different than ‘normal’,” explained Dalby. “Normal is a setting on your dryer – it does not describe a person. We are all different, we are all unique.”
Dalby noted the importance of raising awareness about Autism and said that it was good to see Canada finally get onboard.
“It is an important step. I’m surprised it took six years because it (the day) is there,” said Dalby. “Autism Awareness Day happens every day in my house and in multiple houses across the province and across Canada. It’s a good start and I hope that the awareness continues for more than just one day.”