On Tuesday, April 2, The Empire State Building will “Light It Up Blue” in support of Autism Speaks and International Autism Awareness Month.

During the month of April, local, national, and international organizations will work to raise awareness and support for autism research, treatments, and early diagnosis. While the causes of autism tends to be a hot-button and emotionally charged issue among parents — especially those managing the care and treatment of a child at home — everyone agrees that early recognition and intervention is the best and most effective course of action.

Just recently, a new study from the Center For Disease Control reports that one in 50 school-aged kids have autism or have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. While this number is significantly higher than the one in 88 children published last year, experts warn that the new numbers are based, in part, on a broader sample and increased awareness and identification tools.

While most autism diagnoses occur in the first three years of life, many of the children in the new study were not diagnosed until much later. For many parents, caregivers, and pediatricians, the red flags of autism — including a lack of or delay in speaking, the repetitive use of language or mannerisms, a lack of interest in peer relationships and make believe play and an inability to make or hold eye contact — are all caught well before the child starts kindergarten.

As caregivers and educators get better at identifying autism, the community and the school system must get better at designing and delivering the support the families need.

According to The National Autism Society, the average cost of caring for a child with autism is more than $60,000 a year.

This includes out of pocket expenses not covered by traditional health insurance. Families find themselves paying for additional therapy, increased grocery bills because many believe a restricted and special diet is helpful in managing the disease, and increased co-pays, transportation, and additional educational support.

On the whole, autism receives less than 5 percent of the research funding used for other childhood diseases. There is no cure and no standard for medial detection. Boys are more than five times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with autism, and it is recognized as the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States today.

Organizations across the country will be hard at work this month, raising both awareness and funds for autism.

Locally, the Emerald Coast Autism Society and Brilliant Minds work hard to help families secure the emotional and financial support they need to get their children the help and therapy they deserve. You can support Autism Awareness Month by donating nationally or locally.

While we might not be lighting up any Destin landmarks (although it’s not too late to get that done), we can show our support by wearing blue on April 2 or downloading the Light It Up Blue app for our smart phones.  

The Emerald Coast Autism Society will host its 2nd Annual Going the Distance for Autism 5K/10K Run/Walk and Autism Family Expo on April 6 at The Landing in Fort Walton Beach. You can show your support for autism awareness by running or walking in the 5 or 10K race and support their mission to provide early detection and intervention for every family that needs it.

For more information and a schedule of the day’s events visit our website at ecautismsociety.com or contact Brad Burnette at Brad@ecautismsociety.com.

We might be the Emerald Coast, but I think we can go blue in April.

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.