ASU students learn about autism during Well Devils Week

Parks and recreation management freshman Mercedes Villa said she stopped at the Parks and recreation management freshman Mercedes Villa said she stopped at the "event" because her brother has autism. (Photo by Alexis Macklin)

Students visiting the Sun Devil Fitness complex on the Tempe campus Wednesday may have noticed a booth with blue ribbons and blue puzzle pieces representing autism awareness.

Those who walked by had the opportunity to learn more about autism by asking questions and reading pamphlets.

Mechanical engineering freshman Pratap Prasad said he wasn’t too familiar with what autism actually was.

“I used to be a basketball coach at a Special Olympics camp, and I used to work with kids who had autism, but I never got the chance to learn about it or talk about why,” he said.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability than can cause social and behavioral obstacles. It is a bio-neurological disorder that typically appears before age 3. Because it is a spectrum disorder, it is not identified as a single disorder but rather as a varying spectrum of closely related disorders.

Everyone diagnosed with autism has some degree of difficulty with social skills and communication, but levels of disability vary tremendously from person to person.

Nearly one in 68 children has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from the Center for Disease Control's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

April is Autism Awareness Month, which is set aside to educate families and others about ASD.

Wednesday's event about autism is part of Well Devils Week, which promotes healthy lifestyle and education. Other events included education on aromatherapy, healthy eating alternatives and fitness.

Interior design sophomore Kim Dorman said the purpose of the Autism Awareness initiative was to bring the topic of autism to the table.

“There is a lot of stuff going on with Relay for Life and breast cancer, and we wanted to bring this into people’s radar and break stereotypes,” she said.

Some stereotypes of people diagnosed with autism are that they are a savant, or someone who is genius in certain areas such as music or arithmetic. People with autism are also stereotyped as being poorly behaved with poor social skills.

“A lot of people think autism is like a savant, like Rain Man, and others think people with autism just have terrible social skills,” Dorman said. “There are a lot of different types of autism and it isn’t just like the movie 'Rain Man.'”

Not much is known about ASD and there is no cure. Instead there are organizations like Autism Speaks, which provides help and coping methods to help people diagnosed with autism and their families.

Parks and recreation management freshman Mercedes Villa said she has a brother diagnosed with an advanced form of autism.

“It’s hard for him to be a regular kid, and he’s behind in school,” she said. “It’s very important to spread awareness so this problem isn’t ignored."

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