Since the 1970s, the United States has recognized April as a special opportunity to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.
Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. According to the Centers for Disease Control statistics, “approximately 1 in 68 American children can be identified as on the autism spectrum, a ten-fold increase over the last 40 years,” making autism spectrum disorders the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys. An estimated 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. The CDC statistics suggest that the prevalence of autism among children has increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. Improved diagnostic methods may account for some of that growth.
For many years, the question of what causes autism had no answer. According to the Autism Society website, research has now discovered a number of rare genetic changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these changes are enough to cause autism, but researchers theorize the true cause is a combination of “risk genes” and environmental factors influencing early brain development cause autism.
Read more about what causes autism at Autism-Society.org.
Although every person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unique, and as many as 40 percent of those on the autism spectrum have average to above average intellectual abilities, others have disabilities that make independent everyday living a challenge.
Children with ASD are characterized by communication challenges, difficulties with social interactions and a tendency to engage in repetitive behavior. However, the severity of symptoms may vary widely across these three areas. Some children on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum may face relatively mild challenges. For others, the symptoms can be more severe and may interfere significantly with daily life.
Children with autism may also face other medical conditions, such as seizures, immunity dysfunction, anxiety, language disabilities, hyperactivity and aggression, along with the basic symptoms of autism, and these conditions can vary in severity.
A public service campaign by the advocacy group Autism Speaks stresses the importance of recognizing the early signs of autism. Research indicates that early screening and intervention can reveal an autism risk as young as one year old. Studies also show that early treatment can dramatically improve learning, communication and social skills.
Autism Speaks offers the following “red flags” as indicators that a young child may be exhibiting “at risk” signs for an autism spectrum disorder. If you recognize any of these signs in your child, don’t delay in asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation.
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or after
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age