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About Autism

Awareness and assistance: two ways everyone can contribute to solving the puzzle of autism spectrum disorders

What is Autism?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines autism spectrum disorders as "a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges." People with an autism spectrum disorder may quite literally perceive the world differently. For example:

  • Sensory input can be overwhelming — a change in lighting or a touch that is subtle or even pleasant to most people can be jarring or even physically painful to someone on the spectrum.
  • Understanding emotion, particularly in others, can be difficult for someone on the spectrum — imagine looking at someone's smiling face and not knowing what that person is feeling or trying to express.
  • Controlling emotions can be difficult, leading to frustration and sometimes to vocal or physical outbursts.
  • Repetitive behavior can be another symptom of an autism spectrum disorder — from physical behaviors like hand motions or rocking to obsessive actions, like always lining up toys a certain way, or losing control if a routine is changed.
  • Other disorders can accompany autism spectrum disorders. Gastrointestinal disorders and sleep problems are common for children on the spectrum. Other disorders can include rare genetic disorders, epilepsy, sensory integration dysfunction, or pica (an eating disorder in which non-food substances are attractive).

The reason it's called "autism spectrum disorder" is because a child can have both a range of these symptoms, and a range of severity of symptoms. Children on the mild end of the spectrum may have very few symptoms indeed, and grow up to lead fairly normal lives. Often this is known as "high-functioning autism." Children with severe classic autism may have most of these symptoms, and the symptoms may be very pronounced and difficult to work with, both for the child and for the child's family.

How Common is Autism?

According to the CDC, one in 88 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder. The rate is significantly higher for boys: one in 54 boys in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It's significantly lower for girls: one in 252 girls in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The number of autism spectrum disorders diagnosed in all children is rising over the years. The CDC's most recent findings indicate that autism spectrum disorders have increased in prevalence by 23% compared with previous findings, with just a two year difference between the two. Nobody is certain whether this is because there is increased recognition or because there is actually a higher incidence of these disorders now than there used to be. It could very easily be a combination of these factors, as many experts believe.

Reason for Hope

The good news is, children living with an autism spectrum disorder can be helped. Treatments vary from child to child based on individual symptoms and on the family's situation and preferences. Most often, the social and interactive symptoms of autism can be treated with varying types of therapy that focus on behavior and interaction. Multiple types of therapies may be used to compliment one another, increasing a child's chances of success and improvement. (Autism Speaks provides a great resource about types of therapy.)

But there is a barrier for many families seeking therapy as a treatment for a child with autism: cost. Therapy sessions are expensive. Worse, in some cases, insurance does not provide any coverage for therapy to treat autism, so families face expensive price tags with no hope of help. Other insurance plans cover some therapy to treat autism, but often with severe limits on what is covered, pushing desired or recommended therapies out of reach. Additional assistance for families in need can be hard to find.

The Autism Site strives to help in two ways: by spreading awareness and providing assistance. The more people understand about autism spectrum disorders, the more we can work together to overcome the challenges presented by this puzzle — socially, personally, and scientifically. Even better, with the help of people like you, we can mitigate the cost of some of the therapeutic programs that families are seeking, making them more accessible to families in need.

Every child is important. Let's do our best to support all of them.




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