By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian
April is recognized as National Autism Awareness Month, and Barbara Becker-Cottrill, executive director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center in Huntington, said it’s a time to educate the community about the disorder.
“The big message this month, and every month, is that too often, a naive observer in the community will assume a person on the autism spectrum is behaving willfully, when in fact, they’re expressing how they experience the world,” she said.
Becker-Cottrill said autism is a neurological disorder and biomedical condition that affects the brain and an individual’s behaviors. She said providing awareness about the disorder and its symptoms allows for the best chance of positive outcomes.
“If a parent were to have any concerns that their child was showing some signs, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact a pediatrician because we know from research that the earlier a child receives preventative services, the better the prognosis,” Becker-Cottrill said.
And with the help of agencies like the Autism Training Center and others, individuals with autism and their families can learn ways to deal with the disorder in everyday life.
“We provide a variety of education and training services to families of individuals with autism spectrum disorders of all ages, all across our state,” Becker-Cottrill said.
The ATC at Marshall University was established in 1983, with satellite offices coming to the northern part of the state in Weirton and Fairmont in the early ’90s. Becker-Cottrill said more than 2,500 families have registered for services through the center since its establishment.
“We work to develop a comprehensive support plan across home, school, work and the community,” Becker-Cottrill said. “It’s a very comprehensive, team-building process.”