More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, but autism itself remains widely misunderstood. As a result, people with an autism spectrum disorder face a significant amount of stigma, which can present additional challenges for themselves and their families. And, although April is National Autism Awareness Month, we at Hudson Regional Hospital wanted to get a head start on awareness. We have put together a list of five quick but essential facts you should learn about autism. Understanding this condition in greater detail will help you interact more appropriately with people on the spectrum, provide more meaningful support to your loved ones, and be part of the vital national movement to spread awareness about mental health.
Diagnoses Are On The Rise
Approximately 1 percent of all people in the world are estimated to be on the autism spectrum. However, that number is growing in the United States. The CDC reported that the prevalence of autistic children in the United States rose by 119.4 percent between 2000 and 2010. Recent statistics indicate that the incidence of autistic children in the U.S. now exceeds 1 in 68, making autism the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country. And, as with other diseases, it is prevalent with Ashkenazi Jews.
Symptoms Can Vary Greatly From Patient to Patient
Autism can manifest in numerous ways, some of which are more obvious to the outside world than others. A person on the autism spectrum may exhibit delays in learning a language, trouble making or maintaining eye contact, challenges related to making small talk or carrying on conversations, difficulties with executive functioning, poor motor skills, and atypical sensory sensitivity. They may also have a narrow scope of intense interests, making it difficult to hold their attention to other matters.
Autism is NOT an Intellectual Disability
One of the most common stereotypes surrounding autism is that people who live with it have lower intelligence than others. However, the intellect of autistic people varies greatly—just like that of “neurotypical” individuals. An American study in 2014 found that almost 50 percent of all children with an autism spectrum disorder have average or above-average IQs. Autistic individuals may be particularly adept in specific areas but can struggle in others. For example, an autistic person may have above-average book-learning abilities, but below-average social skills.
Early Identification Can Reduce Lifetime Changes
A persistent myth about autism spectrum disorder is that it is untreatable. While children diagnosed with autism do not “grow out of it,” studies show that identifying autism early on in life and applying strategies can reduce the challenges they will face later in life. The CDC’s “Learn the Signs. Act Early” web page provides detailed milestones that parents can use to track the development of their children and take appropriate steps to seek assistance when necessary.
It Affects Adults Too
Much of the media attention surrounding autism focuses on children, but adolescents and adults with autism need support and understanding as well. Approximately 67 percent of families with autistic adolescents are estimated to be unaware of suitable transition services, and while nearly three-quarters of these adolescents want to work, only 19 percent are currently employed.
Medical science has much to learn about autism, and the general population must do everything in its power to be more accommodating of autistic individuals while this vital research is being conducted. Learn the facts and take care to approach the issue of autism with sensitivity and compassion so that you can be part of the solution.