All for autism By THOMAS M. THORNBURGH Special to the Saipan Tribune This is a message to our families in the CNMI who are touched by autism. As an advocate for about a decade now with the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Services Inc. or NMPASI, I see tremendous growth in our community as far as autism is concerned. Although we live on tiny islands that don't even register on some maps, I say to you all that there is support in our community. One such support system is the Autism Association of the CNMI or ASCNMI. ASCNMI is a parent organization that provides support for families who have a child or children with autism and other disabilities. Furthermore, your child also has the right to an education that is free to parents in the public school setting. The CNMI Public School System's Special Education program is dedicated to providing educational support services to our children with autism-a whole range of services from speech services to assistive technology to adaptive physical education. All you have to do is refer your child to a Child Study Team who will observe and evaluate your child's strengths and weaknesses and see if the child does need academic assistance. If your child needs Special Education services to succeed academically, then an Individualized Education Plan or IEP is created to ensure that they address these needs so that your child progresses. This comes with a caveat, however; make sure you speak up. In my line of work, we always remind our clients that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Autism today is on the rise. This is a fact that has been confirmed by many studies in the United States and all over the world. Autism affects the ability of one to communicate and interact with others. It may also involve self-stimulating repetitive movements. Diagnosing autism is based on observations of behavior only. There are no medical tests. No answer as to what causes it, but more research is being done and sooner or later, we will be able to get a better grasp of it. The important thing is that we keep going, keep asking, keep learning and keep growing. People with autism are people first. They have the same rights as everyone else, and deserve to be treated like everyone else, with dignity and respect. Autistic people have also contributed to the world in many ways. Take for example, Leonardo Da Vinci, who took 12 years to paint the lips of the Mona Lisa, amongst other things. Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson were both U.S. presidents. The mathematician Albert Einstein, and many more have been suggested to have had some form of autism based on their behaviors. During April Autism Awareness Month 2010, the ASCNMI and NMPASI, along with other community groups, put on a daylong conference that highlighted autism. The conference focused on local capacity and featured folk from our community who work with children with autism, including Special Education's behavioral specialist Lynn Corella, autism teachers Mark Staal and Jerry Diaz, and a Public School System counselors' presentation on bullying. We also had parents of children with autism giving testimonials, the Developmental Disabilities Council, and Tom Camacho of the Governor's Office. This information was also shared with Tinian at a conference at Fleming Hotel and Rota at the Rota Roundhouse. Awareness is the key to understanding and assisting our people with autism. Come and take part at our annual conference on April 30, 2011, at a venue that will be announced soon. We also invite you to our Hot Dog Walk this Saturday, April 16, at the Last Command Post at 3pm for a 3-mile walk and get a barbeque hotdog afterwards. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at NMPASI at 235-7273 or 235-7274; TTY at 235-7278; Fax at 235-7275 or online at www.nmpasi.com. Thank you for your time and April is Autism Awareness Month 2011 and the local CNMI theme for this month is “All For Autism.” Thomas M. Thornburgh is a project specialist of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Services Inc. and is the Autism Awareness Month Coordinator.