As we usher in spring, a season of possibilities, let’s remember to look at the potential inside everyone, including those who live on the autism spectrum.
Amid the bright colors often associated with spring – the reds, oranges and yellows of budding flowers, for instance – there’s another hue to look for: blue. The Mid-Hudson Bridge will “Light It Up Blue” on April 2 for World Autism Awareness Day, the eighth annual day designed specifically to raise awareness about the disorder, and we encourage buildings and landmarks around Dutchess County to “Light It Up Blue” to show support.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 68 children reside on the autism spectrum; 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, according to the same report. Decade after decade, the prevalence of those diagnoses has increased, as has the need for communities to provide services and programs to serve their residents on the spectrum.
The Department of Behavioral and Community Health offers several programs to help families with children who live on the autism spectrum or with other special needs.
Our Early Intervention Program aims to enhance the development of infants and toddlers from birth up to age 3 who have significant delays or disabilities and to strengthen the capacity of families to meet their child’s special needs. The PreschoolSpecial Education Program serve children with disabilities age 3 to 5, assisting them to find appropriate educational opportunities.
Dutchess County also has tremendous partners in the community which make great contributions to the effort of assisting residents with autism.
Anderson Center for Autism, for example, offers free consultation services to help local businesses become an Autism Supportive Environment, providing instruction such as staff training, an assessment of the business’s environment and other resources. I recommend local companies reach out to the Anderson Center to see how its guidance can make their business more autism-friendly.
During his State of the County address in January, County Executive Marc Molinaro proved his dedication to “Think Differently” about those living with autism by pledging to work with the Anderson Center and Dutchess Tourism to make our county an autism-supportive tourist destination – a locale to which families from around the country living with autism can travel, feel welcomed and enjoy the many attractions that make Dutchess great.
Those visitors will find countless individuals, businesses and organizations that have taken up the county executive’s call to action; and Dutchess County will bestow the inaugural “Think Differently” Awards later this year, rewarding the best efforts to accommodate our neighbors with special needs.
Our county has also hosted picnics and days at the movies, all of which were free for children with special needs and their families, to embrace youngsters with autism and other developmental disabilities. Those efforts will continue in 2016, with an expanded schedule of similar events planned.
Additionally, Dutchess County is proud to host perhaps the most inspirational component of the second annual Walkway Marathon weekend: the inaugural “Think Differently” Dash, a mile-long run/walk through the City of Poughkeepsie for residents with developmental and physical disabilities on June 11. This first-of-its-kind event will give people of all ages with special needs the opportunity to take part in a community event with hundreds of their neighbors cheering for them – the embodiment of County Executive Molinaro’s “Think Differently” philosophy.
This past Tuesday, our department held the first in a series of public forums seeking community input to be included the 2017 Local Services Plan for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.
We’ll have similar discussions about the mental hygiene needs for children (May 2) and for adults (May 3) at Mental Health America of Dutchess County, 253 Mansion St. in the City of Poughkeepsie. Each starting at 4 p.m., these forums give DBCH staff a chance to meet face-to-face with residents facing challenges and their families, giving our staff the opportunity to learn and develop creative solutions for such hurdles. If you or a loved one is affected by mental health issues, you’re welcome to attend a forum or share your experiences with us at www.dutchessny.gov/forumcomments.
Autism is a disorder that is not diminishing; it’s only becoming more prevalent. Our nation, though, has a great opportunity to provide for those on the spectrum and to come up with innovative solutions for them. Dutchess County has taken the lead in enhancing the lives of residents with autism, giving them every opportunity to succeed; and we can all take pride in that success and a role to see it continues.
Dr. Henry M. Kurban is the commissioner of the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health.