April 04, 2012 - Some people support causes by wearing colorful ribbons.
Springfield Township residents Michelle, Zach and Mike Rice pose outside the American Pride Tattoos (340 N. Lapeer Rd. in Oxford Township with Manager Austin Hill and tattoo artist Joe Klemkow. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Others participate in fund-raising relays, walks and runs.
Now, there's a more permanent way to spread awareness and contribute money – tattoos.
Throughout April, American Pride Tattoos (340 N. Lapeer Rd.) in Oxford is celebrating National Autism Awareness Month in a very unique way.
For every customer who gets an autism-related tattoo, American Pride will donate $20 or 20 percent of the tattoo's cost (whichever amount is greater) to Autism Speaks.
Founded in 2005, Autism Speaks is a science and advocacy group dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness; and advocating for the needs of autistic individuals and their families.
"One of the symbols for autism is a puzzle piece," said Tina Berlin, administrative coordinator for American Pride Tattoos. "There's also a ribbon, just like there is for breast cancer.
"There's so many different images you could get (as a tattoo). Somebody got a rosary and instead of it having a cross, it has a puzzle piece. It's anything they want in support of autism."
Autism is a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Autism can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties with motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues. Some individuals with autism excel in visual skills, math, art and music.
This fund-raiser is all part of the Ink 4 Autism campaign, founded by Jack Skorochod, whose son has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.
Thirteen tattoo shops throughout North America are participating in the effort including American Pride's six locations.
"We're the only ones in Michigan doing it," Berlin noted.
In addition to Oxford, American Pride Tattoos has shops in Clarkston, Waterford, Berkley, Milford and Pontiac.
American Pride decided to participate in Ink 4 Autism at the suggestion of a customer, Springfield Township resident Michelle Rice.
Back in December, Rice got a puzzle-piece design tattooed on her foot in honor of her 16-year-old son Zach, who was diagnosed with a severe form of autism at age 3.
"Tattoos have become so mainstream," Rice said. "I'm a 48-year-old professional. I never thought in a million years that I would get a tattoo, but I'm pretty proud of it."
It was Rice's daughter Emily who originally suggested the tattoo idea, so they did it together at American Pride Tattoos' Clarkston location.
"(Autism is) really something that's shaped our lives over the years," she said.
Rice explained that her tattoo is a terrific conversation-starter.
"I get a lot of questions and comments," she said. "It's just another way to spread the word about autism."
After getting her ink, Rice learned about the Ink 4 Autism campaign and sent a website link to American Pride in the hopes that the tattoo chain would participate, which it did.
"I was really impressed that they took the bull by the horns," Rice said. "I just sent it on a whim and the next thing I know, they're doing it.
"I think it's fantastic. They're giving back to the community and paying it forward."
After spending 16 years raising a son with autism, Rice is quite passionate about spreading awareness wherever, however and whenever she can.
"This is a big issue. More and more kids are getting diagnosed and more and more need treatment," she said. "The latest statistics say that 1 in 88 children are being diagnosed with (a form of) autism somewhere on the spectrum."
That statistic is from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies show autism is three to four times more common among boys than girls.
An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the U.S. The most obvious signs and symptoms tend to emerge between ages 2 and 3.
Zach's autism is a result of a rare genetic disorder called Ring 22 Syndrome.
"He's pretty severe," Rice said. "He's nonverbal. There's no talking at all. He has to have a caregiver at all times."
Rice indicated they began to notice something was different about Zach when he was a toddler. "He had said a few words and then lost those," she said. "There was no continued speech."
Other signs included engaging in limited eye contact with others; acting as though he couldn't hear when people were speaking to him; and not playing with toys in appropriate ways.
"He would rip pictures out of books and put them real close to his eye," Rice said.
Rice is hopeful that supporting campaigns like Ink 4 Autism will help get more people talking, more people learning and lead to more support for affected families.
"I know tattoos aren't for everybody, but (autism is) something that touches people's lives in a very powerful way," she said. "I'm proud of (American Pride Tattoos) for doing it."
For more information, visit American Pride Tattoos at www.aptattoos.com or on Facebook.
The Oxford location's phone number is (248) 969-2300.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.