April is Autism Awareness Month, so this month, we're going to learn about autism! Today's post is devoted to spreading awareness on what autism actually is...
Come back throughout the month where we will focus on supports, employment, and independence living skills with autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that affects brain development and lasts throughout one's lifetime. You may see the term autism spectrum disorder or ASD used to refer to the disorder. ASD according to the DSM-5, consists of persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities.
Impact and Prevalence
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ASD is currently one of the fastest growing developmental disability diagnoses, reporting a 29% increase in ASD diagnoses since 2008. This report, issued in 2015, also shows that 1 in every 68 children has been identified as having ASD. Additionally, it's been reported by the CDC that the rate of autism is 1 in 42 males as opposed to 1 in 189 females.
Some groups are at a higher risk for an autism diagnosis, such as the above rate of males over females, and the recurrence of ASD in siblings.
Due to this rise in autism over the past decade, an increase in the amount of research being conducted to identify causes and evaluate evidence-based treatments and supports, is underway.
Characteristics and Identification
ASD falls under the category of developmental disabilities. ASD represents a group of conditions that can result in significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
It's important to note that each person is unique and should be treated as such. That being said, there are some patterns of characteristics in people who are diagnosed with ASD. Below are some common characteristics identified in the DSM-5 as well as by self-advocates for autism.
Challenges with Social Skills
- People with ASD often have difficulty with social interactions, such as...
- initiating social interactions with others
- making eye contact
- reading and understanding social cues
- appearing to have little interest in making friends
- People with ASD may struggle with social communication, ranging from...
- severe delays in vocal communication
- challenges in understanding language in everyday contexts
- reading and understand social pragmatics
- difficulty understanding and verbalizing emotions and abstract ideas
Challenges with Restricted Interests
- People with ASD may have interests that others consider narrow and limited. For example, they may become interested in a single topic, or a few topics from which they struggle to transition to other conversational topics or activities.
Challenges with Repetitive Behaviors
- People with ASD may be interested in the movement of a body part or objects, such as spinning a top or flickering their fingers repeatedly for example.
Different Sensory Experiences
- People with ASD may have different sensory needs, such as...
- Sensitivity to light and/or sounds
- Difficulty interpreting internal physical states
- Olfactory sensitivity (sense of smell)
- Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to touch and movement
Challenges with Rigidity and Order
- People with ASD may struggle to remain "flexible" around changes, or prefer routine, consistency and order to a higher degree than those without ASD.
When diagnosing individuals with autism, doctors take into account many things, such as the manifestation of the characteristics above, severity to which the above characteristics affect the individual, and the age of onset, among other things. In order to gain a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, a doctor or other developmental diagnostician will need to complete an evaluation.
Autism affects people differently, and it's important to note each individuals' strengths and challenges when we begin working with and supporting them. Check back next Monday for Part 2 of the series on different ways to support individuals with autism.