Autism awareness: Saturday event also provides families opportunities to have fun

HARLINGEN — They say things no one understands, or they don’t speak at all.

They rock back and forth, have furious temper tantrums, and avoid eye contact. They ache for friendship, or they have no desire for friendship at all. The symptoms vary widely, but they’re all considered part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

April is National Autism Awareness Month, and Saturday the Harlingen Area Autism Awareness Day will reach out to families with messages of support and information to create more understanding about Autism. World Autism Awareness Day was a separate observance and took place April 2.

“The purpose is to provide opportunities for families who have a family member with Autism to have fun at the park,” said Dr. Stephanie A. Sokolosky, interim chair of the Texas Council for Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders.

Sokolosky said the event at Lon C. Hill Park also was being held for people to learn about services which are available in the community. Members of first responder’s organizations such as the Harlingen Police Department will have an especially visible presence.

Families with a relative who has autism should understand certain procedures in the event of an emergency. If police or other responders are being called, those responders should be made aware of the presence of a person with autism.

“This advance notification in the database helps prepare first responders to best manage the circumstances and avoid confusion,” she said.

Harlingen Police Chief Jeff Adickes said the police want to send the message to the community in general and people with Autism specifically that they are a valued member of the community.

“They have a place in our community,” Adickes said. “The main thing in our community for first responders, it’s important that people understand the symptoms of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). When people in the community have that awareness, it can cause people to be more patient.”

The Autism Society launched National Autism Awareness Day almost 25 years ago, says its website. The purpose was to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for everyone. The effort also was intended to ensure that everyone with ASD had opportunities to have quality of life.

“This year we want to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness to encouraging friends and collaborators to become partners in movement toward acceptance and appreciation,” says the website.

There will be plenty of fun activities.

“There will be opportunities to sit in a police car and talk to police, fire and ambulance personnel,” Sokolosky said. “Many local service providers will be available to answer questions and provide information.”