Did you know …
- Ten years ago, autism’s estimated prevalence was 1 in 166. Today it’s 1 in 68 – an increase of more than 100% in one decade.
- Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S.
- Autism costs a family $60,000 per year on average. The cost of autism across a lifetime averages $1.4 million to $2.4 million.
For any parent, these statistics are alarming. But, what is autism, exactly?
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a set of complex — and frequently misunderstood — disorders of brain development. According to a recently published article by Emily Willingham in Scientific American, “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” For parents, understanding the Autism Spectrum is often confusing, in part due to changing definitions and popular misconceptions. Below are some answers to the questions that parents ask most frequently.
What is the difference between Autism and the Autism Spectrum?
In May 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) merged all autism disorders into one diagnosis of ASD and eliminated all subcategories – from Asperger Syndrome, to Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, to Autistic Disorder.
Are boys or girls most at-risk for developing ASD?
ASD is 4-5 times more common among boys than girls. CDC statistics say that 1 out of every 42 boys will be diagnosed, as compared to only 1 in 189 girls in the United States.
What are the symptoms of ASD?
The advocacy group Autism Speaks defines ASD symptoms as, “associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.”
ASD is a spectrum, each child is unique, and not all exhibit “classic” symptoms, which is why diagnosis is crucial. One third of children (and adults) with autism are nonverbal.
According to the autism advocacy group Autism Speaks, “Autism can be reliably diagnosed by age two…earlier intervention improves outcomes. Early intervention can change underlying brain development and activity. It’s also cost-effective, as it reduces the need for educational and behavioral support in grade school and beyond.”
What causes ASD?
Research into the root causes of ASD have made great strides forward in recent years. And, while there is still no one definitive cause, scientists now point to a combination of factors including rare gene mutation and abnormalities in brain structure or function.
In addition, according to Autism Speaks, “Environmental factors can play a significant role. Experts once believed that autism was almost entirely hereditary. Then research with families participating in the Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange showed that non-inherited influences on early brain development account for nearly half of a child’s risk for developing autism.”
It is important to note that outside factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. In combination with a genetic predisposition, they may modestly increase risk. Factors include:
- advanced parental age at time of conception (of either parent),
- maternal illness or problems during pregnancy or delivery, and
- environmental toxins.
My child has been diagnosed with ASD… now what?
Because ASD is a spectrum of related disorders, no “one size fits all.” However, there are many resources available for families:
The TEACCH Autism Program: a family-centered, evidence-based practice for autism, which offers flexible and person-centered support (all ages and skill levels). TEACCH is based in the “Culture of Autism” and stands for Teaching, Expanding, Appreciated, Collaborating, Cooperating and Holistic. Teachh.com
Autism Society, the leading autism organization in the U.S., provides information and support as well as plays host to the most comprehensive national conference on autism, attended by 2,000 people annually.Autism-society.org
Autism Nationwide offers innovative local services, resources and support to individuals and families. Just a few examples include information on securing Medicaid, options for specialized services such as occupational therapists and speech therapists, and even respite care.DELautism.org
Finally, in honor of Autism Awareness Month 2016, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Office of Autism Research Coordination invite the Autism community and the general public to watch live webcasts of two special talks: “In a Different Key: the story of Autism Then and to Come” and “Pathways to New Treatments in Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
In addition, the next full meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will be held in April, with the public invited to attend in person or remotely through live streaming or conference call.
All three events will held at the National Institutes of Health main campus, in Bethesda, Maryland, and will be webcast live from the NIH Video Cast Home.
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