13-year-old passionate about push for autism acceptance

NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (WABC) -- April has long been recognized as Autism Awareness Month, but this year, experts and advocates are calling for a shift to Autism Acceptance Month to foster change and inclusivity.

Tommy Marcketta, 13, has autism. He was diagnosed just before his 8th birthday and he is ready to spread the word about accepting kids with autism.

His mother, Elizabeth Marcketta, cried at the news of his diagnosis, but she said they were actually tears of relief to know he wasn't alone.

"We finally had an answer and a starting point to how to let Tommy be the best Tommy," she said.

As advocates shift to focusing on autism acceptance as opposed to autism awareness, the hope is that one word change will make a difference.

"If they're accepting, they're not going to be mean. They're going to be supportive," Tommy said.

Tommy has physical and occupational therapy every week and he's working hard on his social skills.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc for many children with autism because it stole their routine, which is so important for them.

But Dr. Tara Matthews, Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrician at Children's Specialized Hospital, fears even children without autism will come out of isolation with similar behavioral issues.

"Once the pandemic is over, a lot of neurotypical kids will have social deficits the way many on autism spectrum have," Matthews said.

For Tommy, who has felt the sting of bullying, he is back in the classroom now, and determined to help others understand and accept autism

"So we can make a better world for people like me," he said.

One in 54 American children are on the autism spectrum and boys are more than four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

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