LOWER TOWNSHIP – Lower Township Council recognized Autism Awareness Month at its Monday, April 3 meeting.

“This really hits close to home for me,” said Mayor Erik Simonsen, after reading a proclamation at the start of the meeting. “I spent decades as a special education and autism educator.”

Jacyn Pisieczko, 16, an annual speaker at Township Council meetings during the April Autism Awareness campaign, then took the floor.

“It is a great time be here again. The first time I stood here I was only seven years old,” Pisieczko said. “I was diagnosed when I was three – and could not speak, had many meltdowns and sensory issues – and some things are still difficult for me.”

Pisieczko said some things come very easy for him, but he still struggles with daily tasks and social issues.

“I have many accomplishments: I can speak well; I graduated CCD and made all my sacraments; I played rec basketball with my twin brother. I am honest, smart and artistic,” he said.

Accompanied at the meeting by his mother, Lisa Bryant, and his twin brother, Pisieczko put a face on the challenges and successes that people with autism confront daily.

“It is not always easy, but I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’m happy to speak for myself and all those affected by autism.”

The township’s proclamation said that individuals with autism “often require a lifetime of specialized and community support services to ensure their health and safety and to support families’ resilience as they manage the psychological and financial burdens autism can present.”

Bryant said she was grateful for the support from Lower Township schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines autism as a group of developmental disabilities that cause major social, communication and behavioral challenges. The symptoms typically present before three years of age. Early identification and intervention can improve longterm outcomes, according to the CDC.

CDC studies have shown that autism and autism spectrum disorders are four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated one out of 54 boys and one out of 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. In New Jersey, the rate is higher at 1 in 45.

By way of comparison, more children are diagnosed with autism each year than with juvenile diabetes, AIDS or cancer combined, according to Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.

According to the group’s data, autism receives less than five percent of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases. Autism can cost a family $60,000 a year on average.