AUTISM: Don’t forget it—and what you can do about it

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

We may be leaving Autism Awareness month behind, but the challenges faced by millions are not going anywhere. I have the pleasure of working with many children who have been diagnosed with autism and while I love it, the challenges are ongoing.  I want to share our resources at ReadTheSpirit, then some new resources in my home state of Michigan—and, today, I urge you to add a comment with your thoughts or news about autism that we hope readers will remember long after this month.

ReadTheSpirit recently published two stories: One is an overview of Autism Awareness Month. The other is a personal column by journalist Tyler Stocks who describes how much a welcoming attitude matters for people growing up with autism.

WHAT IS AUTISM?

Autism Awareness colorful Puzzle PieceThe nationwide group www.Autismspeaks.org says: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. They include autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

There is a nationwide movement toward recognizing Autism as a broad and varied spectrum of disorders. That means less tendency to label people with more specific diagnoses. Many adults living with Asperger syndrome, for example, prefer not to be stigmatized by carrying a specific label throughout life. Autism Speaks points out: With the May 2013 publication of the new DSM-5 diagnostic manual, these autism subtypes will be merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD.

HOW IS AUTISM IDENTIFIED?

ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE AUTISM?

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum—a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

ASD affects over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.

I HAVE MICHIGAN NEWS; WHAT’S YOURS?

Our collective focus on spreading autism awareness is working! It matters. We are improving the lives of families nationwide.

News keeps popping up across the country. Here in Michigan, the state is helping families connect with assistance for children living with ASD. Here is a new Michigan Department of Community Mental Health announcement about further assistance in identifying and helping children with ASD.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN

What thoughts, news or ideas can you share? Please, add a comment below.

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