SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – April is Autism Awareness Month and, each year, the Autism Speaks organization holds a worldwide ‘Light It Up Blue’ event on Autism Awareness Day (April 2) to raise awareness of the developmental disorder. Locally, the South Plainfield Borough Council, at its April 3 meeting, recognized the importance of autism awareness and commended those who advocate within the community.

Autism affects the areas in the brain that regulate pragmatics of speech and perceptions of others and can affects ones social, learning, and behavioral skills. It can affect how people with autism assimilate and express verbal and non-verbal communication as well as sensory processing.

While once thought to be a relatively rare disorder that affected only 1 in 10,000 people, more and more health professionals have been diagnosing children on the autism spectrum. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) reported that approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States – and 1 in 94 in New Jersey – had been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

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“While there is no cure for autism, it is well documented that if individuals with autism receive treatment early in their lives, it is often possible for those individuals to lead significantly improved lives,” said Anesh.

During Monday’s meeting, Anesh presented a proclamation to local autism awareness advocates and officially declared April 2017 as Autism Awareness Month in the municipality. “I encourage everyone to observe this month by learning about people with autism, their strengths, abilities and the programs which serve their needs,” stated Anesh in the proclamation.

In accepting the proclamation, Kelly McGuire Barry, a mother of two young children with autism who started and runs Common Ground, said, “We are truly honored to have the opportunity to be a part of raising awareness of autism in South Plainfield.”

A borough-based organization started for South Plainfield parents and caregivers of children on the autism spectrum, Common Ground has, over the past two years, grown and welcomed many new parents from neighboring towns as well as expanded to include those with children of all disabilities.

“Common Ground was an idea that started organically out of necessity by moms from town with children on the autism spectrum who were going through similar issues. What started as coffee in our homes or at the Bagel Pantry in town grew into so much more. We realized that sharing our experiences with each other was a start but not enough,” said Barry, adding, “The only way to affect change in our community, schools and homes was to take action and organize and become a strong voice to advocate for our children.”

Through Common Ground, parents and caregivers of individuals with special needs can connect, share experiences, and exchange ideas and information in a safe, warm and private environment. Additionally, through the group, parental support, educational workshops and social opportunities for children are offered. Common Ground’s next meeting will take place Thursday, April 27 at 6 p.m. at the South Plainfield Public Library.

“As we raise awareness in our community today, we need to remember that awareness is nothing without acceptance and inclusion,” said Barry. “We need to celebrate diversity not fear it. We have to take the time to have conversations with our children and teach them that different is not less and how rewarding it is to treat others with compassion…”

During the April 3 meeting, the mayor, council, borough administrators and residents also gathered outside Borough Hall in support of the Autism Speaks ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaign.

Dozens of blue – the color used worldwide for autism awareness – balloons courtesy of South Plainfield resident Danielle Staunton, whose son is autistic, were handed out to those in attendance and launched into the night sky.

“I think it's wonderful for council to recognize autism awareness month and allow us to continue the balloon release, which was started at Future Stars three years ago,” said Staunton, who along with fellow resident Jessica Spina blew up approximately 60 balloons prior to the meeting.

“The number of children in the country and our town diagnosed with autism continues to grow. Awareness, acceptance, advocacy and compassion are paramount to these children thriving in the community,” said Staunton, adding, “My son Logan is so amazing and I want everyone to see that. I was honored to be a part of this special event. I hope next year it can be a town wide event.”

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