Liberty High School senior John Reierson was recognized last week by Liberty Township trustees.

Liberty High School senior John Reierson was recognized last week by Liberty Township trustees.

Accompanied by his parents, Bruce and Barbara Reierson, John Reierson told trustees about his successes over autism.

April is National Autism Awareness month.

"I'd like to thank Liberty Township for acknowledging National Autism Awareness Month and recognizing me as a role model," John said. "There are many young people like me facing the challenge of growing up autistic and overcoming these challenges requires patience, determination and a lot of hard work."

Early detection of the disability is essential, John and his parents said.

"It begins with recognizing the symptoms of autism and getting the needed support," Reierson said. Barbara Reierson said John was diagnosed at age 3.

John Reierson said he was grateful for his parents and their "tireless efforts." He said he also is thankful for others who have helped him: various doctors and specialists, the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Olentangy Liberty High School Principal Mark Raiff, the counselors, teachers and staff of the Olentangy school district and Tony Boles of the Powell Taekwondo Academy.

"They all contributed greatly to helping me overcome the many challenges I face with autism," Reierson said.

"I hope the community's recognition will supply more hope for those with autism, inspire their parents to take action and increase awareness of autism here in Liberty Township," he said.

Reierson's successes are many, his mother said.

"My son has made tremendous strides in his life. He is a senior at Liberty High School, an honor student taking three advanced placement classes for college credit. He belongs to the National Honor Society. ... He has a third-degree black belt in elite, Olympic-style taekwondo.

"Last year, he was invited to the national student leadership conference in Washington, D.C., where he attended camp for national security and intelligence and met Secretary Robert Gates at the Pentagon. He recently was awarded the dean's scholarship at Ohio Wesleyan University -- a $73,000 scholarship for four years."

John Reierson intends to study computer science and physics. He is interested in working in national security and intelligence.

Barbara Reierson said, "If you have any questions about your child's development, whether it be behavior, they don't play with others, or maybe their speech isn't where it should be, make sure you contact Columbus or Delaware speech and hearing; e-mail the National Autism Society, ask as many questions as you can. Read as many books as you can, try as many therapies as you can. There is help out there. There's funding available. You may have to work with your insurance company. Unlocking it is different for each person, but it can be unlocked. You have the potential of your child being the first autistic president. The possibilities are endless."

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others, said the Autism Society of America's Web site.

Bob Morgan, superintendent of the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said of the 1,700 individuals his agency serves, 445 are diagnosed with autism. The 445 individuals range in age from 28 months to 39 years. He said that of the autistic individuals his organization serves, 80 percent are under the age of 21.

"You don't see many older individuals with diagnoses of autism," Morgan said. "Ten years ago we didn't have anybody over the age of 17 with autism. In part that is because even in education there wasn't a category for autism spectrum disorders until the mid 1990s. The growth you're seeing to some extent is a more accurate diagnosis."

Morgan said if parents have concerns about their children, they should consult their pediatrician.

Once a child is diagnosed with autism, parents should contact their county agencies and get connected with the "Help Me Grow" program.

"It's an entry point that helps the family get connected to the services they need," Morgan said. "The key is early intervention. Those services can make a tremendous difference in overcoming autism."

For more information, contact the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities at (740) 368-5800 or visit www.dcbdd.org. The National Autism Society's Web site is at www.autism-society.org.

bbutcher@thisweekenws.com