Updated: Oct 30, 2019
According to the CDC around 1 in 59 children in the United States have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). By today's population numbers, that equates to 1.3 million kids.
That's a huge number, right? Well, a recent study by the National Survey of Children’s Health showed that that number will likely increase to 1 in 40, or 1.9 million in 2019.
The increase in ASD cases in the United States is telling. These numbers may steadily continue to rise as they have over the past decade. If they do, we as a society need to ensure that we are well versed in how to provide the best support. That's why we need to start a conversation now to demystify ASD, and better understand those in our community who live with and around it.
So, where do we start?
Know the Signs/Symptoms
Just like ASD itself, signs and symptoms exist on a spectrum. They generally start early in life, but this could mean anywhere from a few months old to a few years old. The way in which you experience the signs and symptoms varies widely as well. Some only see a few signs, and others are overwhelmed by several symptoms. Each case is incredibly unique, and understandably challenging. Here is what our friends over at Autism Speaks want you to look for:
Social communication challenges...
Children and adults with autism have difficulty with both verbal and non-verbal communication. They may not understand or appropriately use:
Spoken language (around a third of people with autism are nonverbal)
Tone of voice
Expressions not meant to be taken literally
Additional social challenges...
Recognizing emotions and intentions in others
Recognizing one’s own emotions
Seeking emotional comfort from others
Feeling overwhelmed in social situations
Taking turns in conversation
Gauging personal space (appropriate distance between people)
Restricted and repetitive behaviors...
Restricted and repetitive behaviors vary greatly across the autism spectrum. They can include:
Repetitive body movements (e.g. rocking, flapping, spinning, running back and forth)
Repetitive motions with objects (e.g. spinning wheels, shaking sticks, flipping levers)
Staring at lights or spinning objects
Ritualistic behaviors (e.g. lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a set order)
Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
Need for unvarying routine/resistance to change (e.g. same daily schedule, meal menu, clothes, route to school)
If you have any concerns about your child showing these symptoms, give us a call and set up an appointment with one of our amazing pediatricians!
Recognize the Risk Factors
There is no one specific cause for any case of ASD, and in fact, it's dangerous to even call it a "cause." These items from Autism Speaks will help you understand the combination of genetic and non-genetic, or environmental influences that appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism.
Genetic risk factors...
Research tells us that autism tends to run in families. Changes in certain genes increase the risk that a child will develop autism. If a parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they may get passed to a child (even if the parent does not have autism). Other times, these genetic changes arise spontaneously in an early embryo or the sperm and/or egg that combine to create the embryo. Again, the majority of these gene changes do not cause autism by themselves. They simply increase risk for the disorder.
Environmental risk factors...
Research also shows that certain environmental influences may further increase–or reduce–autism risk in people who are genetically predisposed to the disorder. Importantly, the increase or decrease in risk appears to be small for any one of these risk factors:
Advanced parent age (either parent)
Pregnancy and birth complications (e.g. extreme prematurity [before 26 weeks], low birth weight, multiple pregnancies [twin, triplet, etc.])
Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart
Prenatal vitamins containing folic acid, before and at conception and through pregnancy
No effect on risk
Vaccines. Each family has a unique experience with an autism diagnosis, and for some it corresponds with the timing of their child’s vaccinations. At the same time, scientists have conducted extensive research over the last two decades to determine whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a comprehensive list of this research.
Differences in brain biology...
How do these genetic and non-genetic influences give rise to autism? Most appear to affect crucial aspects of early brain development. Some appear to affect how brain nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with each other. Others appear to affect how entire regions of the brain communicate with each other. Research continues to explore these differences with an eye to developing treatments and supports that can improve quality of life.
Understand the Treatments
Treatments are truly customized to fit each unique case of ASD. These can include behavioral therapies and/or interventions, medications, or a combination of both. Autism Speaks cites the following:
Behavioral Treatments and Interventions...
Learn the Language
Watch the video below and see the world through the eyes of ASD.
Below are some resources for Parents, Family, Friends, Teachers, and Supporters from Wonder Moms, a blog for parents with special needs children.
Share this article with your family, your friends, and your community this Autism Awareness Month and beyond to help us #SpeakOut for Autism Awareness.