LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston’s “Super Six,” a group of six Harrison Elementary School fifth graders participating in the Autism New Jersey Ambassadors Program for their fourth year, addressed the Livingston mayor and council on Monday about their effort to raise funds for autism awareness and make a positive impact on the community.
The six took turns explaining why it is important to them to encourage community members to become better educated about autism and to help create a better community for individuals with autism. Following their presentation, Township Manager Barry Lewis applauded them, stating that he was particularly moved by their efforts because he has a 25-year-old son who is severely autistic and currently lives in a group home.
“He is one of those ones that needs a lifetime of community support and it’s just incredibly touching to me to see such fine young men give that much thoughtfulness, insightfulness and compassion, so thank you,” he said.
The group shared the statistic that one in 68 children nationally, and one in 41 children in New Jersey, are affected by autism, which means that “most of us know someone on the spectrum—whether it be a family member, friend or classmate,” they said. Despite their differences, the Super Six said they choose to believe they have more in common with these individuals, and that it is important to treat every individual as equal.
They explained that their ambassador campaign “encourages everyone to help build communities that embrace and accept individuals with autism.”
“One easy way to do this is to sympathize and encourage kindness, especially when encountering individuals with autism in day-to-day activities,” they said. “If you see a parent or caregiver with a child or adult with autism who is acting out, instead of staring or walking away, ask, ‘Can I help?’ It’s understandable that those unfamiliar with autism might not know how to act or might find such scenarios awkward or disruptive, but you can be a role model for others and help alleviate a stressful situation.”
Other statistics that they discovered in their research included the fact that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined; that autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States; and that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
“Autism receives less than 5 percent of the research funding of many less-prevalent childhood diseases,” they said. “We need to continue to raise awareness and funds for Autism NJ to help individuals and families receive guidance and services to help individuals reach their potential.”
In addition, the young men shared their concerns about situations were individuals with autism have been bullied, put in dangerous situations, or felt unwelcome in their communities. By raising awareness, the six said they are helping to build acceptance and understanding for all individuals with autism.
In preparation for their meeting with the township council, the Super Six wrote their own proclamation declaring that April is National Autism Awareness Month in Livingston—and the mayor and council were happy to adopt it. The proclamation reads as follows:
“Whereas autism is a pervasive developmental disorder affecting the social, communication and behavioral skills of those affected by it;
“and Whereas, as more health professionals become proficient in diagnosing autism, more children are being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, resulting in rates as high as one in 68 children nationally, and one in 41 in New Jersey;
“and Whereas, while there is no cure for autism, it is well-documented that if individuals with autism receive early and intensive treatment throughout their lives, it may significantly improve lives;
“and Whereas individuals with autism often require a lifetime of specialized and community-support services to ensure their health and safety and to support the family’s resilience as they manage the psychological and financial burdens autism can present;
“and Whereas Autism New Jersey is spearheading the awareness effort in order to educate parents, professionals and the general public about autism and its effects;
“now, therefore, be it resolved that I, Mayor Edward Meinhardt, and the town council do hereby proclaim April 2018 as National Autism Awareness Month in Livingston and urge all employees and residents to participate in our municipality’s National Autism Awareness Month activities in order to become better educated about autism and create a better community for individuals with autism.”
Over the years, the Super Six have created poster boards, distributed flyers, requested donations and more to raise awareness and funds for Autism New Jersey. The group will speak once again at Livingston’s annual autism awareness event, “Shine a Light on Autism,” on April 30 at the Memorial Oval.
“We are a passionate group of young men who believe that through awareness, you can make a difference,” they said. “It is our mission to continue to raise funds and awareness for Autism New Jersey.”
Meinhardt said it is presentations like this one that make him proud to be the mayor of Livingston. After honoring a group of boy scouts, thanking township employees for their recent service and declaring support for the police department’s distracted driving campaign, Meinhardt said that Monday’s council meeting was a “great, heartfelt, warm Livingston night.”
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