According to recent estimates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 88 children in the U.S. has autism. That is up from the last estimate which was one in 110. While there is no agreement whether the increase is due to better diagnosis or a true increase in cases of the disorder, there is a greater urgency to raise awareness and address the issues important to those living with autism today.
As part of National Autism Awareness Month, CNCA is joining the Autism Society in its efforts to share important information and resources about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
There is no known single cause of autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism versus neuro-typical children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. Other experts believe that other factors such as environmental toxins (e.g., heavy metals such as mercury), which are more prevalent in our current environment than in the past may also be contributing to increasing occurrences of ASD.
Symptoms and Screening
The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorders may or may not be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part regular well baby exams, your child's doctor should conduct a "developmental screening," that asks specific questions about your baby's progress. There are five behaviors that signal further evaluation is warranted:
- Does not babble or coo by 12 months
- Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
- Does not say single words by 16 months
- Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
- Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Having any of these five behaviors does not mean your child has autism. It only means that your child should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team which might include: a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant, or other professionals knowledgeable about autism.
While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that may reduce some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention may help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills that allow for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies individuals with ASD, there is no single treatment that will be effective for all people on the spectrum.
Support for Families
The uniqueness of each individual with autism makes the experience of living with autism different for each family. But there are some consistent themes or issues that most families will want to be aware of to be able to provide the best support to the individual and to family members.
The Autism Society has developed in-depth information on a variety of topics related to living with autism. This information may give families the basic tools they need to provide the best outcomes for their loved ones on the autism spectrum. These publications are available as free downloads.
The Society offers many other resources including a national autism-related directory of services and support groups.
A Symbol of Hope
The Autism Awareness Ribbon reflects the mystery and complexity of autism spectrum disorders. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope—hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and appropriate treatments, people with autism will lead fuller, more complete lives.