Autism has been a hot topic for the past several years. Like any other topic in the spotlight of the media, there is a ton of information out there about autism- some of which is great (and when I say great, I mean valid) and some of which is not so great (Ahem… untrue). Because April is autism awareness month, I thought I’d write a brief post highlighting what I consider to be the most important facts about autism. So here goes:
1. ASD: The full name for autism is now Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In 2013 when the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released, autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified were lumped under the category of ASD because research showed they were actually a single condition with differing levels of severity.
2. DEFINITION: ASD is a complex, lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction in a variety of environments (e.g. home, school, work), either currently or by history (DSM-5).
3. PREVALENCE: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2010), approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have autism. It occurs in all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups and is five times more common in boys (1 in 42 boys versus 1 in 189 girls). Research studies in Asia, Europe and North America estimate autism has a prevalence of about 1 percent. The main consensus regarding the recent rise in diagnosis rates is increased awareness.
4. FACT: Asperger’s disorder no longer technically exists (see #1). However, many people continue to strongly identify as “aspie“. Those who were previously diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder or any of the other three disorders currently now categorized as ASD have been grandfathered in as ASD and are able to receive ASD specific treatment.
5. FACT: Vaccines do not cause autism. The causes of autism have been strongly linked to genetics. Other linked causes include environmental factors (e.g. exposure to toxins), complications in pregnancy/delivery, and abnormalities in brain structure & brain function.
6. DIAGNOSING ASD: Accurate diagnosis can be very tricky and complex. Currently, there are no pure medical measures to diagnosis autism (blood test, brain scan). Diagnosis and treatment planning is based on behavioral data and should involve a thorough diagnostic assessment which sometimes includes multiple professionals. Anyone who diagnoses autism using a simple parent or teacher-rating scale is not diagnosing according to professional standards. Pediatricians should screen babies and young children for developmental delays at every well child visit.
7. SIGNS & SYMPTOMS: Autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months and symptoms can begin to emerge as early as 6 to 12 months. Autism can look different in different individuals and symptoms and characteristics of autism change as a child ages. Accurate information on the signs & symptoms of autism can be found at Autism Speaks, Help Guide, the National Autism Association, and the Autism Society of America.
8. CURE: There is no cure for autism but effective therapies do exist. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is an evidenced based therapy for autism and is often combined with rehab therapies (speech, occupational/physical therapy) and medication to treat behavior or other occurring mental health disorders (anxiety, OCD, ADHD, depression).
I hope this was helpful. We at Harmony At Home welcome your comments and feedback.