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Inspire Autistic Children

by Jamie Littlefield
The Challenge

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects one in every 68 children. At first, an autistic child will seem like any other newborn. He will cuddle with his parents, play with other children, and develop normally. But, before the autistic child is three years old, he will begin withdrawing from the world. The once happy, friendly baby will regress. He will lose his ability to connect with the people around him. He may spend hours in solitude, staring at a wall, or making repetitive movements and sounds.

It will become increasingly difficult for the autistic child to communicate with anyone, either verbally or nonverbally. This situation can be devastating for the child's family. No longer will the autistic child play or laugh with his brothers and sisters. He will turn away from his parent's hugs and affection. He will even lose his ability to make eye contact with his loved ones.

Today, autism affects up to 1.5 million Americans. And this number is on the rise. As the fastest-growing developmental disability, cases of autism increase 10-17% every single year. As many as four million Americans will be autistic within the next decade, according to the Autism Society of America. Many autistic adults are unable to care for themselves and remain in their parent's care or in institutions. They live in their own worlds, unable to speak or do basic tasks.

The cause of autism is unknown, and no cure has been discovered. However, treating children with autism can drastically improve their lives. With proper treatment, many autistic children can learn to communicate, interact with others, and form meaningful relationships. Early diagnosis and intervention can help many autistic children grow into happy, competent adults who can take care of themselves, hold jobs, and make friends. For children with more severe cases of autism, treatment can help them overcome behaviors that make it difficult for them to live with their families.

Autism treatment centers around the world give autistic children and their families hope for a better life. You can make a difference by spending your next vacation playing with autistic children at a treatment center or summer camp. You don't need to have experience or a medical degree. All you need is a heart big enough to help autistic children reach their potential.

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When deciding where to volunteer, consider spending time with autistic children at one of the following autism treatment centers and summer camps:

  • Traveler's Worldwide offers volunteer vacations to help children with autism in South Africa. For one to three months, volunteers work in a school dedicated to treating autistic children ages three to eighteen. During the day, volunteers act as classroom assistants and give autistic students one-on-one tutoring. In the evenings, volunteers play with autistic children living at the school.
  • Projects Abroad has a program that needs volunteer psychologists to help with autistic children in Vietnam. The children are between 1 and 13 years old, and volunteers can decide to spend as little or as much time as they desire. 
  • Work and Volunteer offers a program in Thailand to help autistic children. Choose to stay from 2 to 4 weeks with the children at Phuket, who range in age from 3 up to 13 years. Accommodations are included as is lunch at the school. 
  • The Comox Valley Child Development Association sends volunteers to help children at a yearly autism summer camp in Canada. At this three week camp, volunteers help autistic children ages ten to fifteen participate in small group activities, meal preparation, and day trips.

Helping autistic children can be a challenge. But, it's definitely worth it. You'll return from your volunteer vacation knowing you've helped give children a brighter future, brought families together, and made friendships that can last a lifetime. Because of your work, an autistic child may be able to look into his mother's eyes and call her "Mom" for the first time in years. What this means to a child and his loving parents is immeasurable.

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