Think back to your first introduction to Autism. Mine was Rain Man. “Autism,” not “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” was a word used a few times in the script to explain an adult family member who was hidden away in an institution. While the 1988 film taught me the name of a diagnosis, it did not raise my understanding or awareness of ASD. If anything, it planted the seed for a stereotype. Fast forward about 15 years to when a good friend’s preschooler was diagnosed with ASD. I imagined a future like Rain Man‘s.

My own story is that of a kid who grew up in the 80s. To my knowledge, I did not have any classmates who had an ASD diagnosis. Now, I have close friends whose children have had an IEP since early diagnosis at preschool age and younger. Unlike me, my son and daughters do have classmates and friends who have ASD. They are musicians, athletes, A students, B students, sweethearts and goofballs. Integration and early intervention have moved us so far from the card-counting stereotype of Rain Man. I wish filmmakers had told us then what we know now, about my kids’ friends who live at home and attend mainstream school, kids who are more alike than different.

Jumping ahead 30 years, my awareness story is in its next chapter. Working for Goldie Floberg and meeting the children and adults we serve who have ASD, I have a glimpse into the choices families have for children who have sometimes difficult challenges. The children we serve are also musicians, athletes, students, sweethearts and goofballs. Each child or adult with ASD who we serve is unique in their need for support. His or her family may need help with speech delays or behavioral challenges that are outside of the resources available to them at home or school. Knowing the difficult choice that families make when they seek placement for their child, can you imagine if they were faced with that 1988 movie, hospital-like setting? Agencies like ours offer intensive behavioral resources and small community homes designed to serve the special considerations needed for kids and adults with Autism.

This is scratching the surface of raising awareness for the kids and adults who have Autism. Approximately 100 individuals are diagnosed every day with autism in the U.S. Someone reading this has their own story that will help a parent recognize early signs and seek help; break through a stereotype to help a boy or girl feel included; or lend support to a friend faced with moving a child who is higher on the spectrum to the professional care of a resource like Goldie Floberg.

I encourage you to share your story. We’ve created an Autism Awareness fundraiser on Everyday Hero. Will you join our Autism Awareness team? Donate via a fundraiser like mine, or create your own fundraising page that shares the story of what you’ve learned, what you want to learn, even what you learned wrong.