WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- April is National Autism Awareness Month.
It's a month when a Wake Forest family reflects on their 19 years of watching their son struggle with autism. A struggle that ended tragically when he took his life.
They've now dedicated their lives to making sure no children with autism have to face the adversity their son faced.
"My youngest son Kyle was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 back in 2001," Wake Forest Fire Chief Ron Early told ABC11.
At Early's fire department, they are wearing and selling Autism Awareness Month T-shirts designed by Early's wife and Fire Capt. Justin Brown.
Proceeds will go to support autism awareness according to the chief, who said the T-shirt is, "a shirt that the community can wear and buy from us so that maybe they can spread the same word throughout the community."
Early said he's pleased with the response so far.
He's also pleased that the state Department of Public Safety is using this month to highlight additional training for first responders.
So is Capt. Brown.
"The first way to understand something better is to bring awareness to it, train on it, learn about it, spread the word, and then put forth an effort for everybody to have an opportunity to do so," Brown said.
Beyond first responders and the rest of us having a better understanding of what autism is, we need to understand the stresses of those who have it, like Kyle Early, especially when they're young.
"I wish the parents would teach your kids, just stop for a second, they don't have to bully anybody, but just see who they're talking to and try to understand who they are," Early said.
Early said his son had to be pulled out of school because of bullying.
That experience combined with the isolation that followed left Kyle in a dark place at 19, Early said.
"Because of bullying, and the pressures when someone's forced into that lonely and sad world, my son Kyle ultimately passed through suicide just because he felt like he could not function any longer in a world that just didn't understand him," his somber father recalled.
It's a reminder that kids with special needs face the same stresses all teenagers face especially when it comes to social interaction.
So Early's hope we will all use Autism Awareness Month as a time to try to understand not only what many fellow citizens on the spectrum deal with from the disorder, but also what they deal with from those who don't understand.
Why Autism Awareness Month has special importance for the Wake Forest Fire Department family