Increase your knowledge during Autism Awareness Month
For almost 50 years, the Autism Society has celebrated Autism Awareness Month each April in hopes of increasing knowledge, education, and further research of the condition.
Each year, the general theme is increasing awareness, but this year the Autism Society created a helpful FAQ page of sorts to highlight ways for healthcare professionals and the general public alike to accomplish this goal. A few highlights:
Solve the puzzle. Perhaps the most universally recognized symbol related to autism, the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is available in forms from designs on a t-shirt to posters for display in a classroom to graphics for use as a profile photo on Facebook. Many people choose to prominently display the symbol throughout the month of April.
- Community awareness. The Autism Society holds events in conjunctions with its local chapters throughout Autism Awareness Month, and encourages community members to create their own events as well. One example—a partnership forged with AMC Theatres to bring a program called Sensory Friendly Films into theaters on select days each month. Typically, the second and fourth Thursday and Saturday of each month (four days per month in total) are designated nights for Sensory Friendly Films.
What is Autism? Signs/Symptoms
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex development disability for which there is no single known cause or cure. Defined by a specific set of behaviors, autism typically presents early in life (by age three), and those with the condition see significantly improved outcomes with early intervention.
As far as warning signs, symptoms, etc. that may indicate a young child is on the spectrum, we will attempt to divide those attributes into signs (behaviors that if observed regularly, may warrant soliciting further feedback) and characteristics (behaviors or traits that are said to be common in individuals confirmed to be on the autism spectrum.)
According to the Autism Society, the following signs are indications that you should look to have a child examined/diagnosed (while not explicitly stated by the Society, the assumption is that these signs should be observed over a period of time, and that isolated incidents should not necessarily be cause for concern.)
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a “Know the Signs, Act Early” website for further information on important developmental milestones.
According to whathealth.com, characteristics of children on the autism spectrum include:
- Social Skills. Children on the autism spectrum are known to struggle or have differences in their interactions with others and are said to have inadequate playing/talking skills. Mild symptoms include awkward social interactions, a lack of ‘chemistry’ in social relationships or making inappropriate/poorly timed comments. Those further along the spectrum may display a greater degree of these characteristics, or a complete lack of interest in others.
- Empathy. Defined as the ability to understand the feelings of another person, empathy is often a struggle for people with autism. They can, however, learn to acknowledge the other person’s feelings.
- Physical Contact. Many people with autism are extremely uncomfortable with hugging, physical play, or even shaking hands.
- Sensory Issues. Sudden changes in a surrounding environment may be disturbing to a person with autism. These can be changes that affect one or more senses. Loud noises are the most common culprit, but a distracting visual or even an unexpected aroma can be responsible for the change as well.
- Changes in Routine. This one seems a bit more general, as many people are creatures of habit. But those affected by autism may be particularly unwilling to adjust routines. Often displaying repetitive behaviors, a person with autism may be unwilling to change the order in which they do things each morning, such as getting dressed, eating breakfast or brushing their teeth.
Perhaps the best news is that general awareness of autism is growing and as a result, greater resources are being directed towards research on the disorder. People of certain generations often talk about knowing one or more kids who, looking back, were probably on the spectrum—but they never had a specific name for the condition. Today, it’s common for a kid to talk about the boy or girl in their class with autism.
Two years ago, the CDC issued an autism prevalence report that concluded the rate of autism in the United States had risen to one in every 68 births—nearly double the one in every 125 births rate that a similar 2004 study yielded.
Boys seem to be particularly affected, at a rate of one case for every 54 births. (Other sources quote the rate at one in 42 boys, and one in 189 girls, but the “one in 54” number seems to be most common.) Researchers estimate the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism at $2.4 million, while the Autism Society estimate the United States’ annual spending on autism at $90 billion (figure includes research, insurance costs, Medicaid waivers, and various other expenses.)
Throughout the month of April, you will see the Puzzle Ribbon and people wearing blue to do their part to spread awareness of autism. Hopefully, healthcare professionals across the country will join in their quest.