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Nearly a quarter century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with autism spectrum disorder is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. This year they want to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness to encouraging friends and collaborators to become partners in a movement toward acceptance and appreciation.
Founded in 1965 by Dr. Bernard Rimland, Dr. Ruth Sullivan and many other parents of children with autism, the society is the leading source of trusted and reliable information about autism. Its website is one of the most visited websites on autism in the world and its online resource database, Autism Source, and National Contact Center (800-3-AUTISM) provide information and service referrals to thousands of people each year.
National Autism Awareness Month represents an excellent opportunity to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.
Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides.
A 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of 1 in 125 – and almost 1 in 54 boys. The spotlight shining on autism as a result has opened opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve families facing a lifetime of supports for their children. In June 2014, researchers estimated the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism is as great as $2.4 million.
The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder may be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but they usually become clearer during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part of a well-baby or well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your baby’s progress. Here are five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
• Does not babble or coo by 12 months
• Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
• Does not say single words by 16 months
• Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
• Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Any of these five “red flags” does not mean your child has autism. But because the disorder’s symptoms vary so widely, a child showing these behaviors should be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team. This team might include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professionals who are knowledgeable about autism.
Join the Autism Society. It encourages its members and supporters to keep current on and active in ongoing advocacy issues regarding autism, stay abreast of the latest in autism-related news and issues through our online newsletter, Autism Matters, and make an effort to attend autism events and conferences in your area. The benefits of being involved in the autism community are many—not the least of which is educating yourself about the most appropriate treatments and resources available to help your loved one on the spectrum.
WEAR THE RIBBON
The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community in the world. Show your support for people with autism by wearing the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon – as a pin on your shirt, a magnet on your car, a badge on your blog, or even your Facebook profile picture – and educate folks on the potential of people with autism!
Help improve the lives of all impacted by autism with a financial gift to the Autism Society. Every dollar raised by the Autism Society allows them to improve the capabilities and services of their over 100 nationwide affiliates, provide the best national resource database and contact center specializing in autism, and increase public awareness.