Let’s Make April New York’s Autism Awareness Month

March 24, 2006

I’m sure that many of you have heard the heartwarming story of Jason McElwain, the 17 year-old senior member of the Greece Athena Trojans basketball team. “J-MAC”, the autistic team manager has been an inspiration for not only the other members of his team, but for people around the world. In one recent game, his coach decided to give him time on the court, and Jason responded by scoring twenty points in four minutes.

While McElwain has been featured on multiple media outlets, including “Sports Center” and “Good Morning America,” he says his meeting with President George Bush tops them all. Last Tuesday, President Bush visited my district to talk about Medicare Part D. He was greeted on the tarmac by Jason. The two walked arm-in-arm, talking to reporters and exchanging gifts. The President was given a picture of McElwain on a stick and he in turn surprised Jason by presenting him with a Presidential tie clip and bookmark. What Jason showed the nation is that even someone with a disability can accomplish amazing goals.

Autism has gained much needed attention thanks to Jason’s touching story, and my colleagues and I would like to further the cause by naming April 2006 as Autism Awareness Month in New York State. Autism is the third most common developmental disability in the United States; affecting over 26,000 people in New York and one in 500 children will be diagnosed with the disorder. The disorder creates a difficult challenge to overcome; as it is an affliction first occurring in children before the age of three, recognized by unresponsiveness to human contact, deficits in language development, and peculiar reactions to stimuli. Autism affects the reasoning skills, social interaction and communication skills of those who suffer with the disorder, causing difficulty in social settings. Autism knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries, and while the causes are unknown, we know the results are a neurological disorder. Fortunately over the past 30 years, significant progress has been made in research, medicine and therapy for autism, resulting in a greater quality of life for those affected, but there is still a great deal of work to be done.

We would like to garner as much support as possible in combating this debilitating disorder as is possible. In order to do that, we need to raise awareness and make sure the public is fully aware and educated on the topic. For a decade now autism has been nationally recognized since 1996, it is only fitting that New York follow suit. I feel that officially recognizing April as Autism Awareness Month in our state will do just that. I have joined a non-partisan effort in the state legislature to call upon our governor to decree just that.