Saturday’s Times included the story of a Westminster native, Jack Gurecki, living his dream as the lead singer of the rock band Ignite the Fire. He has had to overcome more than most given that he is on the Autism spectrum. In his case, according to the piece, “he sees the world in a different way, not always understanding the subtle nuances needed for social interaction. He has trouble with sarcasm and takes things literally. He avoids eye contact.” He works every day to overcome his challenges.

Gurecki’s story would be compelling at any time but it’s particularly timely given that April is Autism Awareness Month. Which makes this a good time for us to try to increase awareness of something that affects an estimated 1.5 to 3.5 million Americans.

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According to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today, according to the Centers for Disease Control, whereas it affected 1 in 150 in 2000. That makes it the fastest-growing developmental disability, according to the CDC.

There is not one type of autism, but rather many subtypes, which give each person who has it a different set of challenges. It is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues, according to Autism Speaks, and indicators of autism often appear by age 3.

'This is my dream': Westminster man impresses as rock band frontman while living with Asperger’s syndrome

For 25-year-old Jack Gurecki, the singer and frontman for the rock band Ignite the Fire, the social landscape can sometimes be a minefield. The Westminster resident was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 4 and is on the autism spectrum.

Gurecki was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 4. (Medical professionals now categorize Asperger’s as part of the autism spectrum, rather than as an individual syndrome.) He had been showing early behaviors that were of concern to his family, such as referring to himself in the third person and exhibiting a repetitive “flapping” motion with his arms when over-stimulated or upset. “It helped me to cope with and calm the random, unsettling world around me,” he recalled.

Gurecki still uses techniques to keep calm, such as listening to music or his own breathing. He channels his energy into his art and his career and he now inspires others as the confident-looking, powerful frontman for a high-energy band. Something he would like to see embraced by everyone is particularly apt during Autism Awareness Month: “I wish people could learn to value our individual gifts, instead of focusing on our oddities.”

Gurecki is pursuing exactly the career he wants, but that is not the case with many on the autism spectrum. According to the Autism Society, 35 percent of young adults with autism have not held a job or received any education past high school.

Because signs of autism are often apparent very early, Autism Speaks recommends parents contact a medical professional if they see the following signs in their children.

By 12 months: Little or no babbling; little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving; and little or no response to name. By 16 months: Very few or no words. By 24 months: Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases. At any age: Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills; avoidance of eye contact; persistent preference for solitude; difficulty understanding other people’s feelings; persistent repetition of words or phrases, resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings; repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.); and unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors.

Reach Autism Speaks at 888-288-4762 or visit autismspeaks.org.

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