April is National Autism Month

by C. Alexis Brown on March 29, 2012

April is National Autism Awareness Month. National Autism Awareness Month is an opportunity for organizations and individuals to educate their communities about autism, and spread awareness in schools, workplaces, and local communities

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and interact socially. Typically diagnosed within the first three years of life, autism is characterized by certain developmental and neurological abnormalities causing significant communication, social, and behavioral challenges.

According to Nemours, a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving children’s health,

“Autism causes kids to experience the world differently from the way most other kids do. It’s hard for kids with autism to talk with other people and express themselves using words. Kids who have autism usually keep to themselves and many can’t communicate without special help.

They also may react to what’s going on around them in unusual ways. Normal sounds may really bother someone with autism — so much so that the person covers his or her ears. Being touched, even in a gentle way, may feel uncomfortable.

Kids with autism often can’t make connections that other kids make easily. For example, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or being friendly. But a kid with autism may have trouble connecting that smile with the person’s happy feelings.

A kid who has autism also has trouble linking words to their meanings. Imagine trying to understand what your mom is saying if you didn’t know what her words really mean. It is doubly frustrating then if a kid can’t come up with the right words to express his or her own thoughts.

Autism causes kids to act in unusual ways. They might flap their hands, say certain words over and over, have temper tantrums, or play only with one particular toy. Most kids with autism don’t like changes in routines. They like to stay on a schedule that is always the same. They also may insist that their toys or other objects be arranged a certain way and get upset if these items are moved or disturbed.

If someone has autism, his or her brain has trouble with an important job: making sense of the world. Every day, your brain interprets the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that you experience. If your brain couldn’t help you understand these things, you would have trouble functioning, talking, going to school, and doing other everyday stuff. Kids can be mildly affected by autism, so that they only have a little trouble in life, or they can be very affected, so that they need a lot of help.”

What to look for

Signs and symptoms may not be obvious or apparent in early infancy, while some children may show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. There are also some children who may develop normally until around 24 months of life and then stop developing new skills. It is important to know that every child is unique and different and may not show evidence of all symptoms. Instead, each child may demonstrate a unique combination of all, or some, of the associated symptoms:

  • Little or no eye contact
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Not responding to their name by 12 months
  • Acts as though deaf
  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeating phrases and words over and over
  • Having trouble understanding internal feelings and the feelings of other
  • Uneven development of skills
  • Resistance to changes in routine
  • Marked physical hyperactivity and/or extreme passivity
  • Lack of demonstration of typical signs of affection
  • Little or no apparent fear of real dangers
  • Unusual responses to sensations, including a high tolerance for pain
  • Inappropriate laughing or crying
  • Inappropriate attachments to objects
  • Eating, sleeping, and toileting difficulties
  • Aggressive or self-injurious behavior
  • Having unusual reactions to the way things/objects sound, smell, taste, feel and/or look

Additionally, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists 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 “red flags” does not mean your child has autism. But because the symptoms of the disorder vary so much, a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team. This team may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant, or other professionals knowledgeable about autism.

For more information please visit www.cdc.gov/actearly.

Facts about Autism

 

Did you know…

 

  • Autism now affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
  • More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
  • Autism costs the nation $126 billion per year
  • Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
  • Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Prevalence vs. Private Funding

  • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 1,200 / Funding: $277 million
  • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 100,000 / Funding: $162 million
  • Pediatric AIDS: Affects 1 in 300 / Funding: $394 million
  • Juvenile Diabetes: Affects 1 in 500 / Funding: $156 million
  • Autism: Affects 1 in 88 / Funding: $79 million

National Institutes of Health Funds Allocation

  • Total 2011 NIH budget: $30.5 billion
  • Of this, only $169 million goes directly to autism research. This represents 0.6% of total NIH funding.

Source: © 2005 – 2012 Autism Speaks Inc.

 

Resources and Links

 

Autism Speaks

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

Autism Society of America

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

American Occupational Therapy Association

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