DEAR ABBY: April is Autism Awareness Month. I'm hoping that with the number of people your column reaches, you will help us in the autism community spread the word about the need for research and education about this childhood disorder.
Autism is a neurological disorder that severely affects a child's ability to develop communication skills and social interactions. The child lives in a world of his or her own. Its rate of occurrence has increased to about one in 400 children. Autism shows up around 18 months of age or older. It mostly affects boys, at a ratio of 4-to-1. No one knows what causes autism, and as yet there is no cure.
I have a granddaughter who has this disorder. The need for research is great because, with proper education, these children can improve and lead much better lives than they did 20 years ago. My granddaughter has improved a great deal in the 18 months she has been going to school. There, she is trained by teachers with special education skills to help these kids along.
Please help our growing community of autistic children by letting people know that if they need any additional information, they can contact the Autism Society. Thank you, Abby. -- ANDREA RUSSELL, NEW CASTLE, DEL.
DEAR ANDREA: I am pleased to help spread the message. Since I received your letter, I have learned that through hard work and intensive education, people with autism can hold jobs, make friends and lead fuller lives. Autism is the third most common developmental disability, and more common than Down syndrome.
People who would like to learn more about autism should contact the Autism Society of America, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20814. The toll-free number is (800) 328-8476, extension 150; the Web address is: www.autism-society.org.