Providing a brief description of autism is like asking someone to simply and concisely explain all of mathematics. Just as every person is different, every person with autism presents different behaviors and symptoms.
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impacts how a child perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in crucial areas of development — social interaction, communication and behavior,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “Each child with ASD is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior and level of severity — from low-functioning to high-functioning.”
Many levels of autism
The learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities of people with autism can range from gifted to severely challenged, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although there are many theories, the specific causes of autism remain unknown.
“In all likelihood, what we call ‘autism’ is an umbrella term for a number of different kinds of mental problems, but they all share some common symptoms — just as a fever might be a sign of many different kinds of illnesses,” scholastic.com reports. The bottom line is lots of research is going on, but there are no conclusive answers yet.
The list of symptoms connected with autism is extensive. Some people might have noticeable issues; others might not. WebMD notes the common thread is differences in social skills, communication and behavior compared with people who aren’t on the spectrum.
There are generally no visible physical indications a person has autism. Because the disorder primarily impacts social interaction and communication, people who exhibit autistic traits can be ridiculed or ostracized for their behavior.
Some examples of common autistic traits include:
- Trouble forming relationships
- Difficulty understanding or responding to emotional signals from others
- Using language creatively
- Repetitive, self-stimulatory behavior, such as staring at a fan
- Repetitive motor movements such as hand flapping, jumping, rocking or spinning
- Constant moving and hyper behavior
- Fixations on specific activities or objects
- Obsession with routines or rituals (and getting upset when a routine is changed, even slightly)
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, light and sound
- Not taking part in “make-believe” play or imitating others’ behaviors
- Fussy eating habits
- Lack of coordination, clumsiness
- Impulsiveness (acting without thinking)
- Aggressive behavior, both with self and others
- Short attention span
- Inability to recognize sarcasm or joking
- Delayed speech or language skills
A growing concern
The incidence of children with autism is rapidly increasing. The CDC reports that, among 8-year-old children in 2002, there were 6.6 cases of autism per 1,000 children. In 2012, among 8-year-old children, there were 14.6 cases of reported autism per 1,000.
Identifying children with autism can be a challenge because there is no medical mechanism, like a blood test, that can be used to provide a definitive diagnosis. While some children can be accurately diagnosed by age 2, many children are much older before receiving a final diagnosis.
Treatments to help children with autism are most effective when started at an early age. As a result, the CDC notes a delay in diagnosis means some children who have autism might not get the help they need. Organizations like the National Autism Network can connect parents and caregivers with treatment providers and available resources, and even offer resources for adults with autism.
Fortunately, public awareness about autism is bringing increased assistance to those affected. The popular kids’ show “Sesame Street” is even introducing a character with autism named Julia. Hopefully, the more people know, the more understanding and accepting they can be when meeting and interacting with those on the autism spectrum.
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