Autism Awareness Month
Since the 1970s, April has been recognized as National Autism Awareness Month in an effort to enhance the general population’s knowledge of this condition and to encourage people to get involved with autism advocacy. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, here are a few frequently asked questions (and answers) about autism.
What is autism?
Autism is included in the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) group, which also includes Asperger syndrome and other neurodevelopmental conditions. All of them impair three major domains: socialization, communication and behavior. The end-result is a disability that affects not only the way autistics communicate with and relate to other people, but also the way they perceive the surrounding world.
How common are autism spectrum disorders (ASD)?
In the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, ASD was reported to occur in as many as 20 per 1000 (1 in 50) children between 6 to 17 years old. This number is up from 11 per 1000 in 2007. It’s believed that most of this rise in the prevalence of autism is due to increased awareness of this condition and, therefore, earlier detection and diagnosis.
Is it true that autism occurs more frequently in boys?
Definitely. Classic autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. Asperger’s syndrome, which also belongs to the ASD group, is 11 times more common in boys. The reason remains a mystery.
Do vaccines cause autism?
No, the overwhelming majority of studies have not found any link between vaccines and autism. Thimerosal, the mercury preservative used in vaccines and regarded as a possible causative factor, was completely removed from vaccines in 2001.
Which signs should alert a parent about the possibility of autism?
The key is to look at the three main areas affected by autism. Children with autism have trouble relating to others and frequently prefer not to play with other kids. They avoid eye contact and dislike being touched. They generally start speaking much later and have trouble expressing their needs using words or emotions, so much so that parents may think that their child is deaf. These children also frequently show an intense interest in certain items or activities and tend to disregard everything else. Additionally, they tend to create rituals, like eating particular foods in a very specific order.
Is there a cure for autism?
No, there is not. However, early diagnosis and early intensive treatment can ameliorate this condition, move the child toward independence and improve the quality of life. Treatment focuses on behavioral and educational interventions that target the main symptoms.
What can I do to get involved?
There are many ways that you can get involved in Autism Awareness Month. Here are some websites to help you get started:
• Blumberg SJ, Bramlett MD, Kogan MD, et al. Changes in prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder in school-aged U.S. children: 2007 to 2011-2012. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr065.pdf
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. "Learn the signs. Act early." campaign. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/index.html
• "Accept Difference. Not Indifference." The National Autistic Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2013. http://www.autism.org.uk/