By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW
Every year, more and more children are diagnosed with autism and many of us whose families are affected by autism begin to assume that everyone knows the facts about it. The truth is, there are still many misconceptions about autism and those who are affected by it. Here is some basic information about autism spectrum disorder.
What is autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a term used to describe a range of developmental disorders including autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder. This developmental disability can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASD may have difficulty communicating and forming relationships with others. They may communicate, interact, behave and learn differently than other people. Autism does not affect intelligence and learning. Thinking and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives, while others require little to no help.
Why does it seem like so many kids have autism all of a sudden?
It seems that way, because it is true -- there are a lot of children with ASD. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that one in every 64 children has been diagnosed with ASD. That number sharply contrasts with estimates from the 1970s and 1980s, when one in every 5,000 children had an autism diagnosis.
These statistics can help place that number in perspective. Down syndrome is the most commonly occurring chromosomal condition with one in every 691 babies being born with Down syndrome. Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is the most common known cause of inherited intellectual disability. It is estimated that one in every 5,000 males are born with FXS.
As more research is done and more is learned about autism, health care professionals have become more familiar with the signs and symptoms of ASD, which has led to more children being diagnosed. Public awareness campaigns help inform parents about baby’s developmental milestones, so parents are more aware if there are differences in their child’s development. That also helps lead to increased rates of ASD diagnosis.
Is there a cure for autism?
There is no cure for ASD. However, several treatments have been effective in helping to improve the functioning of people with ASD. Educational and behavioral interventions are particularly helpful. Some examples are applied behavioral analysis, social skills training, speech therapy and family counseling.
Though autism is not a mental illness, symptoms of anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder are often experienced by people with autism. Those symptoms are often successfully treated with medication.
The most important thing to remember about autism is that the symptoms can be vast and complex. Autism can affect different people in different ways, so don’t expect for all people with autism to behave the same way.
What should I do if someone I care about is diagnosed with autism?
Finding out that your own child, or someone else you love, has autism can be overwhelming. What should I do? How can I find support and resources? What does this mean for our family and our relationships? How is my life going to change? These are a few of the questions that swirl through the mind of a person in that situation. BJC EAP is always available to provide you and your family members with counseling (for emotional support) and/or information about local resources in your area. Visit Autism Society and Autism Speaks for more information. Autism Speaks has invaluable online resource guides and tool kits covering countless topics.