In March, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) amended a previous autism statistic that stated that 1 in 88 children are on the autism spectrum. At the time, the number was a ten-fold increase over the last 40 years. But the new report, given to parents of children ranging in age from 6 to 17, suggests that the number is actually higher — 1 in 50 American children are on the autism spectrum.
The new data also states that school-aged boys are more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis than girls. Health scientist with the CDC’s Center for Health Statistics, Stephen Blumberg says, “The new data does suggest that the number of children with autism is higher than we had estimated 4 years ago.” Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, believes that the latest report supplies growing evidence that the number of children with autism spectrum disorders is underestimated in the United States.
What is Autism?
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are broad terms for a number of complex disorders of brain development. Difficulties in social interaction, repetitive behaviors, and verbal and non-verbal communication classified in varying degrees define these disorders.
Difficulties in motor coordination, attention problems, intellectual disabilities, and physical health issues such as gastrointestinal and sleep disruptions have been linked to ASD. Autistic behavior seems become noticeable between 2 and 3 years of age. But autism enroots in early brain development. With increasing diagnoses it is imperative that autism awareness also rises.
Watch for the These Signs
No joyful expressions and smiles by 6 months of age
No back-and-forth sharing of facial expressions, smiles, or sounds by 9 months of age
No babbling by 12 months of age
No words by 16 months of age
No meaningful two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months of age
Any loss of speech, babbling, or social skills at any age
* courtesy of Autism Speaks
The Causes of Autism
What causes autism? The answer is just as complex as autism itself. There is not a singular cause. In recent studies, scientists have pinpointed a number of rare gene mutations linked to autism. Most cases of autism result from a combination of “at risk” genes and environmental factors that influence the early development of the brain. Environmental stressors tend to be present before and during birth. The factors include advanced age of the father and mother during the time of conception, maternal illness during the pregnancy, and certain complications, particularly difficulties that cause oxygen deprivation for the baby during delivery. These components, alone, do not cause autism, but when coupled with gene factors, the risk increases.
On the Spectrum?
Every autism diagnosis is unique. About 25 percent of people with ASD are non-verbal. They can learn to communicate through alternate non-verbal methods. While about 40 percent of people diagnosed with ASD are average to above-average intellectually. Some people with ASD tend to have above-average skill levels in the areas of math, music, and art, which makes creative therapy a popular field of treatment.
After the Diagnosis
Coping with an autism diagnosis in a positive manner is a first step down the right path of your child’s future. Parents can never be prepared to hear that their child is autistic. It’s natural to experience a roller coaster range of emotions from shock to denial, but it’s the emotion of acceptance your child needs the most. You, as a parent (and caregiver), make a tremendous difference in your child’s life. But to be a pillar of strength, you need to take care of yourself (mentally and physically) as well. Autism Speaks suggests asking yourself the following questions. Where does my support and strength come from? How am I really doing? Do I need to cry? Complain? Scream? I would like some help, but I don’t know who to ask.
You will not be able to care for your child if you do not care for yourself. So, remember, your feelings are extremely important as well. And remember, you’re not alone. Support groups provide valuable insight, information, and reinforcement. The Autism Support Network is a wonderful resource for finding a group that fits your needs and comfort level. Visit The Autism Support Network for more information.
Establishing a plan for treatment for your child is also important. Knowing that your child is engaging in growth promoting activates gives you much-needed time to focus on growing yourself. It’s a perfect opportunity to educate yourself on autism.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help. They may want to help, but aren’t sure about how to approach you. Approach them. Friends and family are always willing to lend a helping hand with things such as picking up your groceries, dry cleaning, etc. Accepting their help can be the recharge you need when you’re feeling drained.
Tips to Make Your Family Stronger After an ASD Diagnosis
• Be informed. Research. Take advantage of the services provided by your community.
• Don’t bottle your feelings. It’s human nature to feel angry and sad. Talk about your feelings with your family, but do not take them out on each other.
• Have an adult life. Do not let autism monopolize every hour of the day. Spend time with your spouse and never neglect your other children.
• Celebrate the small victories your autistic child achieves. Focus on the accomplishments rather than comparing them to those of a typically developing child.
• Join the autism community. Make friends with parents that have autistic children. • Share your stories and accomplishments. The support will give you strength to face daily challenges.
• If you’re a sibling, be proud of your brother or sister. Don’t view them as different. • • • Educate yourself about autism. If you are comfortable with the subject then those you associate will be too.
• Find an activity that you can enjoy with your brother or sister. Put a puzzle together. The connection is rewarding and the bond you have with your sibling will only strengthen.
Getting your feelings out is crucial in improving the quality of life for your family. In the book Writing as a Way of Healing, Louise Desalvo suggests “writing that describes traumatic events and our deepest thoughts and feelings about them is linked with improved immune function, improved emotional and physical health, and positive behavioral changes.” Also, keeping a journal of your child’s progress can allow you determine what works and what doesn’t with treatment.
With the latest CDC report, it’s apparent that autism is on the rise. We will all have experiences with it in some form or another — whether it’s a family member or friend. Education is the key to harmony. Awareness is understanding. Getting involved is the future.