Our Autism World – Infographic
The incidences of Autism cases are on the rise — big time! Over the past two decades, we have also seen an increase in organizations willing to get in the game and help children and families who struggle with Autism. This is perhaps a direct result of the enormous amount of research and social studies as well as diagnostic tool improvements.
What has been the impact & where are we going? Let’s take a look…
Over the past 10 years, the Autism diagnosis has been refined many times. Psychiatrists still look at the key areas such as generally obsessive behaviors, deficits in social skills, and possible speech delays or irregularities. (In plain English, we say “behavior, socialization, and communication”.)
Autism is really an “umbrella” diagnosis under which many other disorders fit. The other disorders that currently fit under the Autism umbrella have pieces of the diagnosis requirement, but to various degrees. The three main diagnoses under the Autism umbrella are: Asperger’s, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified) and Autism.
Asperger Syndrome, otherwise known as high-functioning Autism, is often harder to diagnose. To the untrained eye, someone might describe a person with Asperger’s as “quirky”. But to the trained therapist, a person with Asperger Syndrome struggles mostly in the area of socialization. They often have difficulties with a two-way conversation that isn’t solely focused around their own personal interests. They also have behavioral difficulties, but they may be to a lesser degree than someone with full-blown ‘typical’ Autism (if there is such a thing).
PDD-NOS is often considered the ‘middle-of-the-road’ diagnosis. People with PDD-NOS can be very intelligent, but they, too, may have difficulties socializing. They may also be working on communication issues, and they are likely to have behavior issues to a more heightened degree than someone with Asperger Syndrome.
Autism, in its truest form, will include all three areas–behavior, communication & socialization–to a significant level. These are the people whom you may see more of in the public service announcements for Autism. They may also be easier to see in the community because their needs may be significant, and well, they tend to stand out more.
Autism continues to be more prevalent in boys than in girls. This fact has been pretty consistent over the years, which has lead much of the current research being done right now. In the Autism community, there are usually two fields of thought on a cause for why there has been such an increase.
One theory is that it is genetic. There have been a fair number of studies talking about how it can be traced within families. There are also many families with more than one child with Autism. In addition, there are many neurological studies that are looking at the role the brain is playing.
The other theory is that it is environmental. You may have heard of the study done by Dr. Wakefield who took a look at the effect of combined vaccinations on children? (This study has since been discredited.) The reality is that with all of the preservatives we put in our food and chemicals we put in the ground, there may very well be something to the effect the environment plays in the development of children with Autism.
My personal opinion is there is a pretty good argument that it might be a little of both. Maybe people are predisposed through genetics, and if they come into contact with certain environmental factors at just the right time in their development, they could be adversely affected. No research studies have directly led to my opinion. It’s just what I’ve seen over and over from working in the field and hearing the stories from real families struggling to find answers.
Caring for someone with Autism can be a real roller coaster ride. In the beginning, you’re just trying to get on the train and get as many services as you can because early intervention is the key to long term growth. Parents have to be vigilant with advocating for evaluations if they see signs that their child is not developing at an expected rate. The key is to not be in denial… please get help! Your child will benefit from your persistence in the short and long term.
As children with Autism reach school age, parents are focused on the aspects of integration. Current studies show that 40% of children with Autism are bullied in some way in school. This is a staggering figure. Children are educated about bullying, but is that education working?!? It appears not.
Parents and school teams have to work together to figure out the best way to be included and safe at the same time. This is a topic with which many teams and parents struggle. Integration is done best with the right supports and structure in place.
Many children who have an IEP continue to receive their schooling and other services outside of their school district. This is an interesting finding in light of the budget issues school districts face on a yearly basis. Depending on a child’s needs, is it better for the child to be away from their peers when socialization is a goal they are working on? There has to be a better way to support children in the way that they need it and still keep them connected with their community and friends. Socialization is the hardest area for a person with Autism to overcome.
The cost of supporting a person with Autism over a lifetime has been established at the mind-boggling price of $3.2 million dollars! Yes, that is MILLION! It really speaks to the depth of needs that a person with Autism has. People are living longer, thanks to good health care. The impact it has on the adult system will be even larger as their needs grow.
Autism has changed over the past 50 years. There are so many more people diagnosed, which has led to more attention to the needs of the Autism community. More research is being conducted to find a cause for why it is happening in the first place–thank heavens!– and therapists are continuing to develop better methods to treat the people they support.
But the work can not end there…
Raising Autism awareness, both locally and nationally, is the key that will lead to social acceptance, an increase in services available, and hopefully, a decrease in the number of children and adults diagnosed. Considering where Autism has been, it’s about time things are changing! It will be amazing to see what is discovered over the next 50 years.