Autism. Wow, so many things come to mind when this word is spoken. Autism is one of the many diagnosis in which people hear about often from friends, family, and the media, yet when asked to share specifics they are hard pressed to relay solid facts. It is no fault of anyone in particular, but because Autism falls on such a wide spectrum characteristics, it can be tough for folks to fully understand and identify the disability. April is Autism awareness month and the efforts behind the awareness campaign are to spread facts and acceptance.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not selective. It has the potential to effect children from any race, religion, or income bracket. ASD is classified as a developmental disability, meaning it poses challenges for individuals to meet developmental milestone at a rate similar to peers within the same age group. Developmental milestones that professionals focus on are those relating to social, communicational, and behavioral growth. Children with ASD may experience difficulty engaging with peers, developing relationships with adults, communicating needs, and appropriately expressing feelings.

It is important to note that ASD is not uniform and each child with the diagnosis could fall somewhere within a very wide spectrum of severity. There are several common characteristics associated with ASD that professionals look for when considering an ASD diagnosis. Early indicators include, but are not limited to, poor eye contact, excessive and repetitive behaviors, limited babbling or talking in infancy or toddlerhood, no smiling, and minimal positive engagement with adults or other children. Later indicators include, but again are not limited to, difficulty developing meaningful relationships or friendships, overall disinterest in others and the activities of others, the tendency to isolate, and having an elevated degree of intolerance for change.

The severity of ASD varies from child to child. Some children are able to function independently and adapt to living a life with ASD while others do not have that ability. There are numerous ASD modifications and adaptations available that help children cope with and manage the needs of the disability. Furthermore, there is a vast network of Autism support groups who have a plethora of information collected by parents of children with ASD who have experienced first hand the effects of the disability and the impact it has on the child and family unit.

It is important to clarify that while researchers and scientists have not pin-pointed the exact cause of ASD, they have deemed, with certainly, that parental actions do not cause ASD. What they have determined thus far is that ASD has roots in genetic and environmental factors. Scientists are still working toward clarifying the causes and developing preventative measures for ASD. There are many questions yet to be answered regarding this prevalent yet elusive disability.

For more information on ASD, please check out the following websites.

Gulf Bend Center

Autism Speaks

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

This article was written by Megan Tuttle

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