Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes developmental disabilities that manifest in the way people socialize, communicate and behave. It has become so common that it now afflicts one in 68 Americans.1 Every day American families struggle to cope with the extra challenges that accompany an ASD diagnosis: Children who have few friends at school, sleepless nights, therapy appointments and uncertain futures. But along with these hardships comes the satisfaction of seeing steady improvements and uncovering unique talents and gifts of children and adults with ASD.
Scientists struggle to understand why ASD is on the rise, and studies only hint at possible causes and give few definitive answers. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re taking a closer look at this disorder and how it affects American families.
Symptoms and early detection
People with ASD experience challenges that cause them to interact differently with the world. For example, a child with ASD may take food from a stranger’s plate at a restaurant or become so fixated with a toy that he or she spends hours with it without shifting their attention.
Several conditions, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome fall under an ASD diagnosis, and they all have unique characteristics. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can be detected as early as 18 months of age, with the classic symptoms in babies being lack of eye contact and not pointing to objects to show interest. But, doctors stress, ASD is not easy to diagnose and just because a baby exhibits these symptoms doesn’t mean he or she has ASD. For a comprehensive list of symptoms, please visit the CDC website.link opens in a new window
If you are concerned your child exhibits ASD characteristics, talk to your pediatrician. Early detection and treatment are critical for developmental progress.
Prevalence and treatment
ASD is the fastest growing disability in the United States, with a 119.4 percent increase in prevalence since 2000. Researchers do not know what causes ASD, or why it is on the rise, but suspect a strong genetic component along with a variety of environmental risk factors. For more information on possible causes, visit the Causes and Risk Factors Sectionlink opens in a new window of the CDC website.
Currently there is no cure for ASD, but effective therapy programs and treatments exist for related symptoms. Generally, types of therapies can be broken down into four different categories:
Emotional and financial impact on families
ASD takes an emotional and financial toll on families. Children with ASD require more time and resources from parents, which can sometimes leave siblings feeling like there’s not enough attention to go around. Unpredictable sleeping and eating patterns can throw normal routines off. Understandably, parents can easily become overwhelmed and exhausted by the extra demands an affected child places on the family.
Additionally, the CDC reports a family will spend $40,000- $60,000 per year on behavioral interventions for children affected with ASD. Medical costs for these children are five times that of healthy children’s medical costs.
The Autism Society of America published a helpful article, Stress: Take a Load Off!2PDF file opens in a new window. to help families deal with additional stressors.
Unique gifts and talents
This year, the Autism Society emphasizes what we as a community can do to help people with ASD feel included, cherished and appreciated for their unique gifts and talents2. Some of the greatest achievements in the world have been made by people with suspected autism, such as Mozart, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin.
Join us in celebrating Autism Awareness Month by spreading awareness and sharing stories of your friends and loved ones who have ASD. (Link to a FB post about Autism Awareness)
1 All facts and figures taken from the CDC website,link opens in a new window accessed 3/31/16
2 http://www.autism-society.org/link opens in a new window accessed 3/31/16.