PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Central Illinois health leaders are making people aware of the resources out there for people with autism.

The Autism Collective reports one in 54 children who are born has autism, and while education and resources are becoming easily accessible, bullying is still very common.

Both Easterseals and The Autism Collective want to let everyone know of the programs they have to offer.

According to the CEO of UnityPoint Health, UnityPlace, around 70 percent of children with autism get bullied in school.

But Easterseals Central Illinois wants to let people know while we may be different, we still have a lot in common, and it’s important to understand each diagnosis is different.

“If you meet one person with autism, you meet one person with autism,” said Easterseals Central Illinois Outreach Coordinator Molly Hogeboom.

Hogeboom says the best thing people can do is to be educated on how to interact with people with any sort of disability.

“It’s always okay to ask questions. I think that’s the most respectful thing to do, is to ask how you can accommodate a person,” Hogeboom said. “It’s very eye-opening. I think the eye-opening part of it is just how many people are not aware of our friends with unique differences like autism. I think there’s a lot to be said for what people can do to do better. Part of that would be to educate themselves.”

Easterseals and OSF Healthcare founded The Autism Collective in 2018.

The not-for-profits’ Executive Director says the prevalence of autism is exponentially rising.

“It used to be one in several hundred, to one in 100, to most recently it went from 1 in 59 to 1 in 54,” said Amanda Estes.

Estes says she’s seen an improvement in knowledge, education, and resources for those who have autism and people with family members who have autism.

“Especially with respect to autism. I think part of the reasoning behind that is the prevalence,” Estes said.

Estes says be aware that people with autism may lack the social and communication skills, but says The Autism Collective wants to provide resources to help people know how to act around others with autism.

The Autism Collectives’ goal is now to help doctors and educators become more confident in caring for those with autism.

Easterseals is also helping with that initiative, starting a new program.

“Easterseals actually has a resource if communities or families are interested in participating. It’s been rebranded to the ‘ability awareness program,” Hogeboom said.

Due to COVID-19, the program has gone virtual, which Hogeboom says makes it easier to connect to those who need help.

To find the Ability Awareness Program, click on the link here.

To find out more about The Autism Collective, click here.