In 1943, Leo Kanner wrote a scientific paper called “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact” that illustrated the experiences of 11 children displaying feelings of social detachment and isolation. He was the first to categorize his findings as ‘infantile autismʼ. Ultimately, becoming a renowned term within clinical psychiatry. Now, recent findings show that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is estimated to affect the lives of over five million Americans aged 18 years and older, and about one in 44 children.
We’re celebrating National Autism Awareness Month in an effort to encourage knowledge and advocacy about autism spectrum disorders. With scientific research, social understanding, and support at the federal level, autism awareness can continue to create a positive impact.
What Is Autism?
Social, communication, and behavioral challenges are among the most pertinent ways in which autism can influence one’s life. Autism spectrum disorder is categorized as a developmental disability that includes many conditions that were once used separately. They’d included autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains there not being a distinct appearance associated with autism, however individuals are more likely to communicate, interact, behave, and learn differently than those without the condition. “The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less,” the CDC describes.
The Autism Science Foundation emphasizes that consistent behaviors are seen across the board with autistic people. “Lack of interest in other people and other social challenges, stereotyped actions (hand flapping, body rocking), insistence on sameness, resistance to change and, in some cases, aggression or self-injury,” the non-profit states. Autism is found to be highly heritable, with both genetic and environmental factors also playing sufficient roles. In fact, almost 15% of cases are found to be connected to a specific gene mutation.
Diagnosing autism can be tricky to say the least. There is no known cure and doctors primarily utilize behavioral and developmental signs as indicators to confirm ASD. While children 18 months or younger can exemplify traits of the condition, a diagnosis by age two is said to be most reliable. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and occupational, speech and physical therapy are among the most helpful of treatments. However, several children don’t learn of their full diagnosis until they are older, the CDC says. Scientists conclude early intervention is crucial in benefiting those with autism since many need lifelong support and services.
The CDC depicts signs and symptoms of adults and children with autism may:
- Point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
- Look at objects when another person points at them
- Have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
- Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
- Appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
Like many other health conditions, ASD can also be a substantial economic burden. In the U.S. alone, $11.5 billion to $60.9 billion were estimated to be the total cost per year for children with autism in 2011. Variables including direct and indirect costs, medical care, special education, and lost parental productivity have influenced this finding, the CDC concludes. Furthermore, intensive behavioral interventions for children with autism can cost $40,000 to $60,000 annually.
So, what can you do this National Autism Awareness Month and all year long?
Engaging in community-based efforts can help lessen the challenges that both autistic individuals and their caretakers face. The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) emphasizes educating youth about their autistic peers, empowering the autism community with informational resources, supporting adults in the autism community through OAR’s Hire Autism Initiative, and raising money for new research and resources as goals for social involvement.
Additionally, you can also become an active volunteer in the Autism Speaks Advocacy Ambassador Program, “to build relationships between constituents and legislators at the federal level.”