April 2, 2012 marks World Autism Awareness Day! Wear BLUE in support of the people and families effected by Autism.
Autism statistics from the CDC (US Center of Disease Control and Prevention) identify 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum, this is ten TIMES the number of children diagnosed 40 years ago. The current government statistics show an annual increase of 10-17% in recent years. This is statistically more children than are affected by diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome, combined. Yet, autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many LESS prevalent childhood diseases.
So, what exactly IS autism and autism spectrum disorder? Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. “Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. However, symptoms and their severity vary widely across these three core areas. Taken together, they may result in relatively mild challenges for someone on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. For others, symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language interfere with everyday life.” (Autism Speaks:autismspeaks.org)
Research points to no one particular cause of autism. But, over the years scientists have found a number of rare gene changes, or mutations associated with autism. However, most causes of autism seem to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors influencing early brain development. Keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism.
There are early signs to look for in babies and younger children and it is very important to be aware of these signs and to take your baby or younger child to be screened to ensure that they have early interventions.
*NO big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or after
*NO back and forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 months
*NO babbling by 12 months
*NO back and forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
*NO words by 16 months
*NO speech by 24 months
*LOSS of speech babbling or social skills AT ANY AGE
Although there is no cure for autism, there are treatments to help those diagnosed with autism. Because each individual effected with autism is unique, the intervention plan is tailored to fit that individuals needs. Intervention plans can include both therapies and medications, as most people who have autism generally have medical conditions as well.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism. While the outcomes of early intervention vary, all children benefit. Researchers have developed a number of effective early intervention models. They vary in details, but all good early intervention programs share certain features. They include:
√ The child receives structured, therapeutic activities for at least 25 hours per week.
√ Highly trained therapists and/or teachers deliver the intervention. Well-trained paraprofessionals may assist with the intervention under the supervision of an experienced professional with expertise in autism therapy.
√ The therapy is guided by specific and well-defined learning objectives, and the child’s progress in meeting these objectives is regularly evaluated and recorded.
√ The intervention focuses on the core areas affected by autism. These include social skills, language and communication, imitation, play skills, daily living and motor skills.
√ The program provides the child with opportunities to interact with typically developing peers.
√ The program actively engages parents in the intervention, both in decision making and the delivery of treatment.
√ The therapists make clear their respect for the unique needs, values and perspectives of the child and his or her family.
√ The program involves a multidisciplinary team that includes, as needed, a physician, speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist.
(Autism Speaks: autsimspeaks.org)
It is very important that if you have a child diagnosed with autism or ASD that you educate yourself and find groups who will support you through your journey.