ELKINS - Blue lights, ribbons, bows and balloons decorated Elkins City Hall Wednesday evening as residents gathered in support of World Autism Awareness Day.
Those attending the celebration and proclamation signing donned blue shirts, shoes and pants, and in celebration shared blue punch and cake.
Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said this is the seventh year for the event.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Beth Christian Broschart
Elkins resident Jeremiah Yokum, an eighth-grade student at Elkins Middle School, celebrates with cake and punch served by Elkins City Treasurer Lisa Daniels-Smith.
"I want to thank those who came out to recognize World Autism Awareness Day," Campbell said. "A diagnosis of autism affects the child, their parents, grandparents and siblings. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism."
Campbell said that in 2006, one in 150 children received a diagnosis of autism. Today, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism. She encouraged people to be accepting of everyone, no matter if they are different.
"Please support family members of those who are autistic or those with any special needs," Campbell said.
She reminded those in attendance that a diagnosis of autism is not made to put limitations on the child.
"They have great skills including wonderful memories and imagination," Campbell said. "Tap into what they are good at doing and bring that out."
Campbell stressed that early detection of autism is key.
"Early detection helps those get early treatment," Campbell said. "With early intervention, there is a 40 percent chance of improvement."
Campbell said she and Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, worked to get an IEP bill through this Legislative Session, House Bill 4384, that requires teachers of students with exceptional needs to either be present at an individualized education program meeting or to read and sign a copy of the individualized education program plan.
"There are 50,000 students in West Virginia that have an IEP," Campbell said. "About 45,000 of them have some type of learning disability or special needs."
She said two centers in West Virginia specialize in autism care - the West Virginia Center for Excellence at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown and the Autism Training Center in Huntington.
"Therapists from both centers travel to Elkins to work with autistic students," Campbell said.
Hartman thanked Campbell for helping bring an awareness of autism to the forefront.
"A few years ago when we were talking about autism legislation, no one had first-hand knowledge," Hartman said. "Denise raised autism awareness to a new level through her understanding. It fueled the bill and we continue to support autism legislation."
Erin Ball, a private consultant who also serves on the West Virginia Board of Examiners for Speech and Audiology, spoke about working with autistic children.
"I am pleased with the huge showing of support throughout our community tonight," Ball said. "It means a lot to see so many people here. Working with kids with autism is a passion for me."
Ball said a study was conducted that mapped the brain activity of people who heard a loud noise.
"Everyone had the same reaction," Ball said. "When they conducted the same test with a person with autism, they responded differently."
Ball said folks need to be conscious of autism.
"Kids with autism are unique," Ball said. "I think I teach those with autism, but when I work with them, I learn 10 times more. They see the world through a different lens."
Elkins Mayor Van Broughton read and signed a proclamation declaring Wednesday World Autism Awareness Day before attendees shared cake and punch.
Additional information about autism is available at www.autismspeaks.org.