WITH April being autism awareness month, a Tongaat community organisation embarked on a series of events to raise awareness on autism. Imbalito Hope College and Connect Special Needs Joint Forum for Professionals, Parents and Community is a forum to empower parents and professionals and the community to help people with special needs and autism. The forum together with residents embarked on various campaigns around Durban to raise awareness and break the stigma around autism.Centre Director Nirasha Dhaniram said: “April 2 is Autism Awareness Day. To celebrate the day, we have a [series] of events aimed at raising awareness on autism. I am the mother of a child with autism. As a psychologist and mother I founded the Connect forum and Imbalito Hope College to help children with autism. We need the community to learn more on the topic so that children can be diagnosed earlier and get help faster than currently, due to the stigma and lack of understanding on autism. “Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterised by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.”The forum will embark on other campaigns throughout the month of April to continue raising awareness on autism. The first campaign kicked-off at the King Shaka International Airport followed by the Rainbow Walk that was held at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on April 14. The next campaign will be held on the North Coast, starting at the Lifestyle Centre on Saturday, April 21. Scores of residents are expected to join forces with the forum in a bid to break down the stigma being attached to autism. According to the information published on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, one in 60 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASDs). “ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood,” WHO said. WHO said some people with ASD can live independently, and others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. “There are probably many factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environment and genetic factors. Available epidemiological data are conclusive that there is no evidence of a casual association between measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and ASD,” WHO said. According to WHO, intervention during early childhood is important to promote the optional development and well-being of people with an ASD. Monitoring of child development as part of routine maternal and child healthcare is recommended.