SUMMIT, NJ - April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released statistics that indicate Autism rates are on the rise, with one in 68 children in the United States, one in 42 boys, and 1 in 189 girls affected by the disease.
In addition, Autism New Jersey notes that the Garden State has the highest rate in the country, with 1 in 28 boys being diagnosed on the spectrum.
For Zachary Brooks, age 11, and a 6th Grade student at Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School (LCJSMS), the disease is personal. His twin brother, Jack, has Autism, and as Zachary put it, "Jack is our inspiration."
Zachary realized, early on, not just the challenges his brother faces, but the challenges the entire family faces having a member with Autism. Zachary understands what's going on with his brother, but it can be difficult even for him to completely understand his brother or Autism at times.
Zachary thought, if he sometimes has a hard time with it, then people who do not know anyone with Autism must have a really hard time understanding or recognizing Autism. So he decided he needed to make a difference to help people understand and open their hearts.
Last year, Zachary was invited to speak to the student body at Oratory Prep in Summit. Two years ago he had a live phone interview with Cable News 12. He has spearheaded awareness campaigns at his elementary school, and now at LCJSMS.
As a member of the LCJSMS Diversity Council, Zachary suggested they support Autism Awareness Month. He arranged for the students and staff to wear blue to school on World Autism Day, April 2. The council has made posters, and he is making announcements throughout the month to the student body. Thanks to his advocacy, blue ribbons adorn the trees around the school. Zachary and the Diversity Council also sold Autism Awareness bracelets after school to help raise money for Autism Speaks.
Zachary's involvement on a school level is to help kids understand Autism, and hopefully they will grow up into adults who are more aware and tolerant.
Locally, businesses have hung signs, decorated with blue merchandise, served blue plate specials and blue drinks, collected donations / spare change and, if possible, donated a percentage of sales during World Autism Day or other special events held during the Month. The following are among the businesses in Summit supporting Autism Awareness Month:
The Summit Police Department
Peter Wallburg Studios
The Tea Pot
The Hat Tavern
Beauty Lounge (the owner's daughter & friends will also do a bake sale for autism in addition to beauty lounge supporting & donating)
Stahl Delduca Florist
The UPS Store
Lois Schneider Realtor
Lawton C Johnson Summit Middle School
Bonnie Neiman Antiques
For more information on Autism Awareness Month, visit autismspeaks.org.