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April is Autism Awareness Month

World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2018. It kicks off Autism Awareness Month, a global effort to help increase understanding and acceptance of the autism spectrum. On this day, people around the world wear blue, and many homes and businesses display blue lights to show their support. 

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex group of developmental disorders that may also affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others and may be accompanied by other health issues. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that There is no known cause for autism spectrum disorder, and there is no known cure. However, early diagnosis, therapies, and support for specific symptoms can be helpful. 

How You Can Help 

There are many ways to help raise awareness about autism, including:

  • Educating yourself: start with websites like AutismSpeaks
  • Raising funds: start a fundraiser on social media, donate, and participate in local fundraisers
  • Attending events during Autism Awareness Month: look for local events in your area
  • Calling out stigma against autism: educate others whenever possible
  • Talking to and supporting autistic people and their families: learning and listening is key

Most importantly, autism awareness begins by listening to the stories of people with autism and their families. To that end, we are proud to share a story from a Pfizer colleague about his son, Danny. 

Danny's Story

Baohang Zhang, Director of Quantitative Bioinformatics at Pfizer, is the parent of an autistic child, Danny. For Danny's entire childhood, he struggled to be understood. His behaviors in school were seen as disruptive, leading to regular disciplinary actions including expulsion and, ultimately, a court appearance. Thankfully, that was the wake-up call his family needed. They offered support and love and Danny began to thrive. He started to focus on his studies and what he could do to help others with autism. Over time, his disruptive behaviors began to lessen. 

In 2017, Baohong was the recipient of a Pfizer WRD award that included a cash prize of $25,000. Danny suggested that his father could use the money to produce t-shirts to fundraise for autism-related charities. By selling these Team Autism shirts, Danny hoped to attune others to the experiences of people on the autism spectrum and raise money for organizations supporting autistic individuals. When he first began to sell his t-shirts, he had difficulty trying to convince others to invest in his plan. However, Danny persisted and continued to pursue his goal despite a slow start. Eventually, he found more people that were willing to purchase  the shirts and support Team Autism. To date, they have raised $20,000 on behalf of Autism Speaks.  

Danny is now a senior in high school and has been accepted to several colleges. He has received a number of merit-based scholarships and is writing a book based on his experiences. With big plans for his future, he wants to become the CEO of his own company and continue to share his experiences with autism to raise awareness whenever possible -- all of which will be made possible because of his parents' support.

Looking back on his family's experience, Baohong shares that the lessons he learned can truly apply to all of us. He believes parents should let their kids know that, no matter what, their parents will be behind them. Likewise, he believes teachers, authority figures, and the community at large can help by showing more understanding, acceptance, and patience. As he says, "You never know how kindness can truly impact someone." 

To learn more about autism and World Autism Awareness Day, visit AutismSpeaks.org.