World Autism Awareness Month is observed annually in April, and Councilman Larry Roth brought attention to the condition of autism at the April 17th Special Presentations. Autism is estimated to effect 31,133 children in the state of Florida and 1,184 children in Homestead specifically. The condition is prevalent, affecting an estimated one in 59 children (one in 37 boys and one in 151 girls). Councilman Roth introduced Daniela Santana Cairo, a resident of Homestead and mother of a child with autism, to speak about the condition.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Cairo explained, “Autism is a lifetime neurological condition. It is not a disease.” She added that the condition ranged from severe autism to high functioning autism and that children were usually diagnosed between the ages of 2-3. It is a complex disorder that affects each person who has it differently, resulting in unique strengths and challenges. It can cause challenges with verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors, and can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic background. Cairo noted that over the next decade, about 500,000 youth with autism nationwide will enter adulthood and many will continue to need services and support.
Cairo then turned her presentation to her 8-year-old son Lucas and his experience as a thriving second grader and honor roll student at the Air Base K-8 Center. Lucas, diagnosed with autism at the age of four, is part of an inclusive classroom, with children like him who have high-functioning autism, as well as children without disabilities, including autism. Lucas speaks four languages and recently won a Citizenship Award at school.
Showing pictures from his class, she emphasized, “Inclusive classrooms not only benefit children with autism, but those without it. Together, we learn better — an inclusive community benefits all children,” adding, “The sky’s the limit for kids with autism when we give them the tools to succeed.”
Councilman Roth noted the statistic Cairo had cited in her presentation — that autism is estimated “to affect more than 1,100 kids just in the City of Homestead.” He stated that it would be helpful to become more aware of how to respond to people with autism in the community, noting that the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University offer public education and awareness programming about autism. He expressed that such training would be a valuable resource for the community, including its law enforcement personnel.
Councilman Roth then read the special proclamation, signed by Mayor Stephen Shelley, which stated that “The City of Homestead was honored to take part in the annual observance of World Autism Month to address the diverse needs of individuals and families affected by autism.”