Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as autism, is a developmental disability that can potentially cause substantial social, behavioral, and communication challenges. A developmental disability by definition is a condition that begins during a person’s developmental period and may affect their day-to-day functioning and can last through a lifetime.
One of the unique characteristics of this condition is that, unlike many other developmental disabilities, people with ASD have nothing that sets them apart from other people. Moreover, as the term ‘spectrum’ suggests, there is no one type of ASD but various subtypes that are influenced by different environmental and genetic factors. Being a spectrum disorder means that people with autism have distinct strengths and challenges.
Usually, how people with autism go about their lives ranges from highly skilled to severely challenged. For instance, some individuals are known to have high-functioning autism which manifests itself in the form of highly developed reading or writing skills. This, however, is not an official medical diagnosis. Such people may be able to live independently while others may need significant support to learn, communicate and improve their problem-solving skills.
Because the majority of children with autism will behave ‘normally’ (sit, crawl and walk on time), one may fail to notice the signs of ASD in the first few months of life. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include difficulty in interaction or understanding how other people feel or think. Some children may express discomfort in the presence of loud noises or bright lights or may get anxious in social situations. Others may do something repetitively or take longer to comprehend information.
Today, researchers believe that early intervention can produce positive outcomes for individuals with autism. It is, therefore, important to learn about how to identify signs of autism and gain access to interventions that can improve future outcomes. In Virginia, there are a variety of autism resources that provide these services for Black families. One such resource is Dominion Youth Services, which provides care backed by accredited, evidence-based, and innovative therapeutic services and education for autistic children and adults, and the families that care for them.
Dominion Youth Services provides (DYS) personalized autism and behavior services that are designed to improve the quality of families with children experiencing behavioral challenges. The organization has a private day school where students can receive the emotional, academic and behavioral support they require. The educational services provided by DYS provide one-on-one support for students experiencing behavioral challenges. Through the organization, people with autism can access individualized training to help them function independently. DYS has locations in various parts of Virginia including Alexandria, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke, and Virginia Beach.
Another autism resource for Black families is the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence. One of the resources available at VCU Autism Center for Excellence is a course for new parents. Others include webcasts ad seminars. Black families with autism can also consult organizations such as Autism Speaks, Commonwealth Autism Service, Virginia Family Special Education connection, VA Parent Resource Centers, Autism Society, Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center, Operation Autism Online, Alliance National Parent Technical Assistance Center, and The Center for Family Involvement.