When Hoboken Firefighter Richard England told his fellow squad members that his 3-year-old son Mason was diagnosed with autism, many of them told him that whatever he and his family needed, they were there.
On Wednesday, they backed up their words with action, buying blue shirts sold by Autism Speaks, a nonprofit where England’s wife works, and kicking off a month-long effort to raise money to spread awareness about the disorder. April is Autism Awareness Month, and last year the department raised over $1,000 for Autism Speaks.
The firefighters, along with Dept. Chief Richard Blohm and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, kicked off the event outside the 13th Street firehouse on Wednesday. England was joined by around 40 of his friends and colleagues.
“It’s great that they all agreed to help me do this,” said England. “They told me they felt like it was their own child who was diagnosed.”
Chief Blohm said that after participating in department initiatives to raise money for breast cancer, muscular dystrophy, working with his firefighters during Hurricane Sandy, and delivering turkeys on Thanksgiving, he wasn’t at all surprised by Wednesday’s large turnout.
“Firefighters are some of the most giving people you’ll ever meet.” -- Fire Chief Richard Blohm
Zimmer echoed Blohm’s sentiments, and thanked the department and England for his willingness to take up the cause of autism awareness.
“I think this is a great way to kick off the month,” she said. “Firefighter England just was just telling me about his son and I think it’s wonderful that the department is coming together to support him.”
Many kids diagnosed in NJ
The event was especially timely because on Thursday the Center for Disease Control released new statistics about autism in the United States. In 2014, one in 68 children will be diagnosed, including one in 48 boys and one in 89 girls. In New Jersey, the numbers are even more staggering: one in 45 will be diagnosed, one in 21 boys. New Jersey has the highest rate of diagnoses in the country.
According to Autism Speaks, “Austism Spectrum Disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. [As of May 2013], all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD.”
Despite the numbers, England stressed that the disorder (autism is not considered a disease) is not debilitating and does not mean a child is any less of a child because they struggle with it.
“It doesn’t change who they are, it’s a social disorder so it means they have a tougher time doing things than kids without autism,” he said. “But it doesn’t change who they are as a kid one bit.”
For more information on autism and ways to get involved, visit www.autismspeaks.org.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org