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  • Writer's pictureThe Dayton Weekly News

April is Autism Acceptance Month


Erica Fields and her son Nathan


April marks Autism Acceptance Month. This month is meant to be a time for uplifting autistic voices and sharing in the community's joy. Its purpose is to affirm and promote the full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for individuals with Autism, ensuring they are treated equally with others. 

 

Autism is often misunderstood, misconstrued  and misinterpreted. While most people are aware of autism now and know autistic people exist, many people still fail to understand what it means to be autistic.  Autism is a neurological and developmental condition that affects communication, social interaction, learning and how one experiences the world. It looks different for every single person who has it.

 

About one in 36 children have autism spectrum disorder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. This number is on the rise, especially as children of color receive more diagnoses after being largely overlooked throughout history. According to one of the largest U.S. studies to date (National Library of Medicine) on the topic, Black children, on average, don’t get diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) until three years after their parents have initially voiced concerns to their pediatrician. This automatically places them behind the curve, as they miss out on the many positive effects of early intervention services. Black children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are diagnosed later than their White peers, are more likely to be misdiagnosed, and are less likely to receive early intervention services or a developmental evaluation by three years old.

 

Erica Fields discussed with us her personal journey. For Fields, the idea of creating inclusive communities is not a foreign concept. Fields served as the Executive Director of the City of Dayton Human Relations Council, advocating to ensure a culture of fair treatment, inclusion and equal access to opportunities for Dayton residents - regardless of race, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation. She now directs and oversees efforts to increase economic mobility and reduce disparities in student outcomes in focused geographies for regional non-profit Learn to Earn Dayton.  Today, her professional and personal lives have collided. Nathan, Fields’ son, was 15 months old when he was officially diagnosed with Autism. Fields shared how crucial it was to push for an early diagnosis. “As a mom, I knew I needed to. I had to be his greatest advocate. The stakes were too high. Nathan will be entering preschool in the fall and an accurate, and early, diagnosis was the key to unlocking the right services, and for children with autism spectrum disorder, early intervention is critical.”

 

Fields shared that this journey has given her an insight into how important it is for parents to leverage the strengths of their kids, to really get to know who they are; their interests and strengths and abilities and how to support them. “I view Nathan's autism as a superpower rather than a limitation and I am looking forward to experiencing the world from his perspective. I know I will learn a lot from him. Nathan's energy lights up every room he enters. We are blessed to have such an amazing spirit under our guardianship. I have accepted this assignment with open arms." 


In celebration of Nathan and the communities and voices that support him, Fields is gathering a team to run in the Dayton Autism Society’s 5k on April 27.  Proceeds will go towards advocacy, support and education for families living with Autism. Every person with Autism is unique in their own way, and they’re free to identify in whatever way it feels best. The Autism community deserves support, respect, love and opportunities for advancement; and April 30 is not the expiration date.

 

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