Nearly everyone knows a person or has encountered someone who is affected by autism, whether in your family, at school, the store, or the playground. April is Autism Awareness Month, making it the perfect time for families everywhere to increase their awareness and sensitivity to this condition.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that usually appears in the first three years of life, and has a profound impact on how that person communicates and interacts with the people around them. While it is generally not life threatening, it can affect the quality of life of that person and the people around them. 

Diagnosing autism is a challenge because it occurs in degrees of severity that fall within a range of symptoms known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The exact cause of autism is not known, though it is believed to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism affects boys more than girls, and currently it is on the rise. A recent story on CNN.com has reported that rates of autism have increased as much as 30% in this country, affecting nearly 1 in 68 children. While there is no cure, early detection and intervention often results in improved outcomes.

Needless to say, autism is something that deserves our attention, and April is a good time for families everywhere to show their support. Autism Speaks, the leading autism advocacy group, offers a Tool Kit to help you take part.

Here are 6 other ways to become involved.

1. Go Blue

Every year Autism Speaks recognizes World Autism Day by celebrating Light It Up Blue, a global initiative to kick off Autism Awareness Month. Many recognizable and iconic places, including buildings, sporting events, museums, and bridges show their support by lighting themselves blue. People can take part by lighting up their homes or businesses.

2. Go to the Ballpark

Major League Baseball is showing their support by offering discounted tickets to select games. A portion of the proceeds will go toward autism research. Click on this link for more information.

3. Go to the Zoo

Members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have special offerings to families affected by autism, including discounted admission and special programming. Click on this link for more information and find out which zoos are participating.

4. Go For a Walk

Walk Now for Autism Speaks takes place in communities throughout the country and is one of the largest autism walk programs, raising funds and awareness. For more information about taking part or offering support, visit their website.

5. Go to School

Whether or not you are directly affected by autism, talking to your local school about raising awareness is a great way to introduce children to this condition and to teach them about understanding, patience, and compassion.

6. Go to the Library

Libraries are great community centers that have a wealth of resources and are excellent ways to communicate information and raise awareness and support for autism. Speak to your local librarian to see what you can do.

It is important to show our support for autism awareness and to increase our understanding of this condition that touches all of us.

If you have questions or concerns about your own children, talk to your pediatrician. For more information, visit the website for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Autism Society.