Today is World Autism Awareness Day. How much do you know?
Created in 2007 by the UN, World Autism Day is intended to “highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults [with autism] so they can lead full and meaningful lives.” Last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement about the event: “The annual observance of World Autism Awareness Day is meant to spur such action and draw attention to the unacceptable discrimination, abuse and isolation experienced by people with autism and their loved ones.”
So. What is autism? For those of you studying education, psychology, and nursing, autism may be a familiar topic. After all, as many as 1 in 50 school-aged children in the US have autism, with the rates of diagnosis continuing to rise. The next generation of teachers and doctors will have to be ready. For others in the Trinity community, autism might be something you’ve heard of but don’t know much about.
Here are some of the basics:
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad term referring to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders. The disorders vary in symptom and severity: at the more severe end of the spectrum is Autistic Disorder. Milder cases include Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).
ASD affects every segment of the population, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geography, or age. It does, however, affect four times more men than women.
Autism is difficult to diagnose; however, in recent years, doctors have gotten better at identifying it. Thus, the increase in confirmed cases may not reflect an actual increase in ASD, but rather increased awareness.
Every case of ASD has slightly different symptoms. Some common kinds of symptoms include difficulty communicating; delayed language development; inability to interpret non-verbal cues like body language and facial expression; lack of empathy or apparent indifference toward others; repetitive and/or compulsive behaviors; aggression and outbursts; difficulty focusing normally; and abnormal sensitivity to external stimuli.
ASD frequently occurs with other disorders, particularly epilepsy. As many as 20-30% of children with ASD will develop epilepsy by adulthood.
The causes of autism are not fully understood, although it is probably a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
ASD is difficult to diagnose, requiring extensive, detailed screenings to rule out a range of other psychological and developmental illnesses.
There is no cure for ASD, but early intervention and ongoing treatment can alleviate the symptoms. Treatments include highly structured, highly personalized education; use of multimedia materials; counseling for patients and caregivers; medication to address issues like depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggression; and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a form of behavior modification therapy that emphasizes positive reinforcement.
While many parents cringe at the thought of their child being labelled “autistic,” a good diagnosis paves the way for proper treatment.
For more in-depth information on ASD, come to the library and visit our Autism Awareness Month display in the basement. In addition to the facts, you’ll find books and movies about the disorders.
We also recommend the organizations listed here:
- Autism National Committee
- Autism Network International
- Autism Research Institute
- Autism Science Foundation
- Autism Society of America
- Autism Speaks
- CDC Autism Awareness Center
- National Institute Neurological Disorders and Stroke – Autism Fact Sheet
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Therapies for Children w/Autism Spectrum Disorders
Finally,if you’re interested in learning more, check out our tips on how to find autism-related articles in Trinity’s databases.
Remember: awareness is the first step toward understanding — and that, on top of treatment, can make all the difference in the world.