Norton family helps May Institute promote autism awareness on the MBTA
– If you ask Nancy and Bob O’Connor if someone they love has autism, they will respond with a resounding “yes”! Their daughter Bryanna does, and the whole family is excited about helping May Institute raise awareness about autism during April, National Autism Awareness Month.
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral health services to individuals with autism and other special needs. Every April for the past five years, the organization has created a powerful public awareness campaign that has been displayed throughout the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) system.
This year’s campaign theme is “Does Someone You Love Have Autism?” – Bryanna is one of six children and adolescents from communities across Massachusetts being featured. Commuters will “meet” these children via posters and car cards in subway stations and on subway cars, buses, and commuter trains throughout the MBTA this month.
“Everyone in our family has always felt strongly about educating people about autism,” says Nancy. “At a young age, Bryanna’s sisters helped by explaining to their friends why Bryanna did not speak, or by helping them understand what sensory overload can feel like. It is necessary to make the public aware, and for people not to be afraid or disconcerted when they meet someone with autism.”
With autism rates that may be as high as one in 50 for U.S. school children, more and more families like Bryanna’s do have a loved one with autism. Here in Massachusetts, more than 13,000 school-aged children have been diagnosed with the disorder. It occurs in all races, ethnicities, and social groups, and is five times more common in boys than in girls.
“Having a child – now a young adult – with autism is a difficult journey, but thanks to more awareness, there are schools, programs and activities that help families,” Bob explains. “It is most important for everyone not to criticize the autistic child/adult or their parents when they see a person express some behaviors that are unusual. Like all people, individuals with autism are different, and we need not judge it, but accept it.”
“Our awareness campaign has enabled us to give the public an inside look at autism,” says May President and CEO Lauren C. Solotar, Ph.D., ABPP. “Through the years, these campaigns have been very well received, and we are grateful to all of the families of the children and young adults who have shared their personal messages.”
“With the dramatic increase in the prevalence of autism over the past decade, it is critically important that we promote early diagnosis and get credible information about effective, evidence-based treatment options into the hands of families so they can make well informed decisions,” says Hanna Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Executive Director of the National Autism Center, a program of May Institute. “The awareness campaign on the MBTA is helping us do just that.”
Autism is a developmental disability that occurs in one in every 88 children. It is a neurological disorder that affects the development of the brain, causing difficulty with communication, learning, and social interaction. Autism is one of several autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that include Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
About May Institute
May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral healthcare services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, cognitive disabilities, and behavioral needs. The Institute also provides training and consultation services to professionals, organizations, and public school systems. At nearly 200 service locations across the country, Institute staff members work to create new and more effective ways to meet the special needs of individuals and families across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit www.mayinstitute.org.