April is the National Autism Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to “promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with ASD is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life,” according to the Autism Society.
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Autism spectrum disorder includes a range of conditions that affect 1 in 68 children in the United States, and to about 1 percent of the world population (CDC, 2014
). More than 3.5 million Americans live with this condition, (Buescher et al., 2014), and according to Autism Society, it’s the fastest-growing developmental disability in the US.
But what is exactly the autism spectrum disorder? According to Autism Speaks, autism, or the autism spectrum disorder refers to conditions “characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” There’s many types of autism caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors; as a matter of fact, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association merged four previously distinct diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.
Some of the red flags that might mean a child has autism include; they do not babble, coo or gesture by 12 months of age, do not say a single word by 16 months, or have any loss of any language or social skills at any age (Autism Society). However, because the disorder’s symptoms vary, a child who shows these signs must be evaluated by professionals knowledgeable about autism.
It’s generally accepted that the disorder is caused by abnormalities in the brain structure, although there is not a single known cause for it. There is however, a strong genetic basis, with a pattern of autism in many families. Autism also tends to appear more on people who have certain medical conditions, or genetic vulnerability, according to the Autism Society.
The autism spectrum disorder is often thought of as a childhood condition, but autism is a lifelong condition, and as such the support and treatment change as people grow and go through the different life phases. Early detection, preferably before age 3, is very important, since it can reduce lifetime costs by two thirds and allows to begin effective treatment sooner. From childhood to adolescence, parents and caregivers must build treatment and educational programs so kids with autism can reach their whole potential.