In order to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism, the Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s.
The United States recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics has released a report that suggests 1 in 50 children has autism.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics report, in 2007 the prevalence of parent-reported Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) among children ages 6-17 was 1.2 percent; this rate increased to 2 percent in 2011-2012.
The change in prevalence estimates over this five-year period was greatest for boys and for adolescents ages 14-17.
For many years autism was rare - occurring in just five children out of 10,000.
However, since the early 1990s, the rate of autism has increased dramatically around the world, with figures as high as 60 per 10,000.
Assuming prevalence stays flat in the future, the number of adults with autism is expected to rise 625 percent by the year 2030.
Currently, Autism Society of America estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism is approximately $3.2 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism.
Autism knows no racial, ethnic, social boundaries, family income, lifestyle, or educational levels and can affect any family, and any child.
And although the overall incidence of autism is consistent around the globe, it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Organizers hope that through education, autism can become less of a mystery to the general public.
Autism is a severe developmental disorder which begins at birth or within the first 2 1?2 years of life, reports the Autism Research Institute.
Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviors which are markedly different from those of normal children.
Most autistic children look like other kids, but do puzzling and disturbing things which are markedly different behaviors from those of typical children.
In less severe cases on the spectrum (Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Asperger's Syndrome), children usually have speech and might even be intellectually gifted, but they have one or more "autistic" social and behavioral problems.
They may stare into space for hours, throw uncontrollable tantrums, show no interest in people (including their parents) and pursue strange, repetitive activities with no apparent purpose.
They have been described as living in a world of their own.
Some autistic individuals are remarkably gifted in certain areas such as music or mathematics, as depicted in the film Rain Man.
All need help.
What is the cause? The causes of autism are poorly understood, although it is clear that autism is a biological brain disorder.
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the percentage of autistic children who have been able to attend school with normal children, and to live more or less independently in community settings.
People used to think that autism was irreversible.
The good news is that there are now a range of treatments that can be really helpful.
Still, the majority of autistic persons remain severely handicapped in their ability to communicate and socialize with other people.
In clinical terms, there are a few "absolute indicators," often referred to as "red flags," that indicate that a child should be evaluated.
For a parent, these are the "red flags" that your child should be screened to ensure that he/she is on the right developmental path.
Social/Communication Red Flags:
If your baby shows any of these signs, ask your pediatrician or family practitioner for an immediate evaluation:
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter.
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter.
- No babbling by 12 months.
- No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months.
- No words by 16 months.
- No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months.
- Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age.
Autism is diagnosed based on clinical observation and testing by a professional using one or more standardized tests.
Professionals most likely to diagnose autism are psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and school psychologists.
Several screenings and tests may be used in the diagnostic process.
In addition, parental interview and medical history are taken into consideration.
Individuals with autism often suffer from numerous physical ailments which may include: allergies, asthma, epilepsy, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, feeding disorders, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, and more.
Autism does not affect life expectancy.
If you think your child might have an Autism spectrum disorder or you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, or acts, contact your child's doctor, and share your concerns.
If you or the doctor is still concerned, ask the doctor for a referral to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation of your child.