SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national average for people living with autism is 1 in 54. But Utah’s average is higher at 1 in 47 people. Many barriers, challenges, and difficulties still exist for children and adults living with autism, as well as their families.

One example is the financial burden that can come with the cost of tests, diagnosis, and therapy. According to research conducted by Brigham Young University, the average child with autism doesn’t receive a diagnosis until they are about four and half years old. Before their official diagnosis, they will see an average of four to five professionals during their search for answers. The CDC estimates the annual costs of intensive behavioral intervention can range between $40,000 to $60,000 per person.

The COVID-19 pandemic also added extra stress to families of students living with autism. Online schooling worked well for some children, but not for all, especially for those who were learning skills for classroom behavior or that required person-to-person interaction. As schools began to open up and allowed for a return to campus, autistic parents then had to face the difficult decision of whether to keep their children learning virtually or in-person.

In September 2020, a 13-year-old Utah teen who is on the autism spectrum made national news when he was shot 11 times by a local police officer. A 2015 study by the Ruderman Foundation found that individuals living with disabilities make up a third to half of all people who were killed by a law enforcement officer. A lack of understanding and training that some individuals with autism can be nonverbal, overwhelmed by loud noises or bright lights, and unresponsive to commands are all contributing factors. This legislative session, lawmakers passed H.B. 334 that required peace officers to train in intervention responses to ASD and other mental health disorders.

Looking ahead to April, which is Autism Awareness Month, a panel of guests joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for a live IN FOCUS discussion and candid conversation about their lived experiences, myths and misconceptions about autism, adversities they and their family members face on a daily basis, and their upcoming event in Ogden.

The panel guests included Stacy Bernal, an autism parent and co-founder of Awesome Autistic Ogden; Jessica Adams, a special education behavior specialist and co-founder of Awesome Autistic Ogden; Sarah Schelin, an autism parent, and her daughter, Kenzie.

On April 2nd at 6 p.m., the organization will hold “Autistic Artistic” at the Art Stroll at the Monarch on 455 25th Street in Ogden. On April 23rd from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., they will host the “Rise Up for Autism” fundraiser at Daily Rise Downtown at 2314 Washington Blvd. in Ogden.

They are also encouraging the public to participate in their month-long virtual event in April called “Active Autistic Ogden,” where community members can earn a medal for taking a photo of them going on a run, bike, walk or hike and adding the hashtag, #AwesomeAutisticOgden.

For more information about Awesome Autistic Ogden or their upcoming events, visit their FaceBook page here.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Bernal, Adams, and Schelin, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.