April is Autism Awareness Month, when organizations around the world celebrate with awareness-raising events, unique fundraising campaigns, and opportunities to learn more about autism. In honor of this month, here are five things you should know about autism spectrum disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental disability that can affect someone’s ability to communicate and interact with others. However, autism looks very different across the spectrum – some individuals have normal to exceptional intelligence, while some have intellectual disabilities. Some people with autism are able to communicate verbally, while others are not. Asperger syndrome is a specific autism spectrum disorder considered “high functioning,” as individuals with the syndrome don’t display significant difficulties with language or cognitive development. Every individual with autism is unique, and many people on the spectrum excel in fields like academics, art, math, and music.
Autism affects about 1 in 68 children in the United States. The number is significantly higher for males, who are more likely than females to have autism; about 1 in 42 males in the U.S. are affected, compared to 1 in 189 females. Recent studies find that autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country, making awareness especially important.
Although research has answered some questions about what causes autism, scientists continue to search for answers. Autism spectrum disorder is extremely complex, and studies have shown that there’s no single cause. In the past few years, scientists have been able to associate some rare gene mutations with autism – however, most cases seem to be caused by both these gene mutations and environmental factors. Environmental factors include parents’ age, illness during pregnancy, and birth complications. You can learn more about the current state of autism research here.
Autism spectrum disorder presents early on in a child’s life. The average age of autism diagnosis in the U.S. is between 3 and 6 years of age. Identifying ASD early is important, as it may have a significant impact on a child’s behavior and well-being, both in childhood and later on in life. If you have children, you can discuss their development and potential risk for autism with their doctor. Learn more about child development milestones with the CDC’s Act Early resources.
If you or a loved one has autism, you may be interested in getting more involved in the greater community. Organizations like Autism Speaks and the Autism Society offer various ways to do so, including awareness events, volunteering opportunities, and online communities. Every year, Autism Speaks celebrates World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd with Light It Up Blue - people wear blue and buildings light up blue at night across the world. To learn more about this event and other opportunities, visit the Autism Speaks and Autism Society websites.