April is designated as “National Autism Awareness Month.” This health awareness event was established in 1972 by the Autism Society of America. Today, the Centers for Disease Control state that one in 166 children has autism.
Autism is a developmental disability. It falls under a group of five disorders called “autism spectrum disorders.” Autism is the best known.
Another one, Asperger’s Syndrome, is often referred to as a mild form of autism, but it is considered a separate disorder (Autism Society of America).
Children and adults with autism have problems with social, emotional and communication skills. Autism is usually diagnosed during the first three years of life. No social or racial group is immune.
Parents are frequently the first to realize that something is wrong with the development of their child. They notice that their child is not doing the same things as other children of the same age.
Sometimes these concerns are discounted as something the child will grow out of or fears of over anxious parents.
The parent may note that their child was initially meeting developmental milestones but then stopped. Some children may actually lose skills they had.
Each individual affected by autism is unique. Boys are affected more often than girls.
Some do repetitious behaviors like rocking, head banging and twirling. They have a limited range of interests and become upset by changes in routine. Some want to be left alone, avoid eye contact and prefer not to be held or cuddled.
Researchers don’t yet know the cause. Current research focuses on genetics, environmental exposures, and brain studies. One theory is that vaccinations, like the measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations, cause autism. To date, no real link has been found to vaccinations. Not vaccinating children against deadly childhood diseases is a greater public health risk.
Early identification and intervention are very important for the best long- term results.
For information on normal childhood development and an interactive tool for parents, visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/ActEarly/autism.html.