susankaboteddccc-sweb.jpgYou’ve probably seen the statistics: one in 88 children – and one in 54 boys – born in the United States will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For years, many people didn’t understand what autism was all about.

Thankfully, through the efforts of so many, including Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and organizations like the Autism Society and Autism Speaks, as well as several high profile celebrities who have someone in their family with an autism diagnosis – from Dan Marino to Ernie Els to Sylvester Stallone to Holly Robinson-Peete – that has begun to change.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, a time to help bring attention to autism awareness.

NSU’s reputation for innovative, hands-on, active learning is evidenced through the educational programs provided at its Mailman Segal Center for Human Development (MSC.) For more than 30 years, MSC has been at the forefront providing excellence in early childhood education as well as clinical services for children with developmental challenges with a special focus on the early diagnosis and treatment of autism, community outreach, research and advocacy.

From the Baudhuin Preschool to the Autism Institute to our Starting Right program (designed for children ages 18-36 months), NSU has worked very hard to provide a wide variety of options to help those with autism. And one of our newest programs, Access Plus, was developed to help college-age students with autism make a smooth transition from high school to college life.

While NSU has made tremendous strides in both the research of and services for those with autism, we’re only one small part of the puzzle. We continue to work to share our findings and serve as a model for others around the nation – and world – to emulate. Unfortunately, there are obstacles to having services like those found at NSU available in communities across the country – the biggest being costs.

Some studies have shown the total cost for those with autism in the U.S. (education, health care, etc.) is approximately $137 billion per year, a number that has skyrocketed since 2006. In fact, it’s believed that the cost of ASD in the U.S. is great than the Gross Domestic Product of 139 countries across the globe. Break those numbers down and, on average, autism costs an American family approximately $60,000 per year.

While these economic figures are great, the cost of doing nothing will be even greater.  We all share the economic costs of autism and we can all share in the solutions. These are our children, brothers, sisters and friends – we’re in this together and we owe it to them to do whatever we can to ensure they reach their fullest potential and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.

Awareness and acceptance is the key. I encourage you to join the worldwide community of individuals with ASD, their families, friends and the people who provide education and support to them on a daily basis by celebrating Autism Awareness Month.

Susan Kabot is the executive director of the Autism Institute at Nova Southeastern University’s Mailman Segal Center for Human Development in Fort Lauderdale.  She has spent the last 28 years there developing and administering programs in the area of autism.  Susan is also the parent of an adult son with autism.