April is National Autism Awareness month. The National Autism Society began a month of Autism awareness in the 1970s with the intent to help increase better public understanding, generate discussions, and encourage self-advocacy of individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Although Autism began being diagnosed over 70 years ago, in the 1940s, there are still many mysteries surrounding the disorder.
The terms “Autism” comes from the Greek word “Autos”, which means “Self”. Therefore, “Autism” is a term used to describe individuals who tend to be motivated for removal from social interactions. However, a diagnosis of Autism includes more than a lack of social interest. Characteristics of Autism also tend to include impairments in communication, often with the lack of spoken language, and behaviors that are characterized by the motivation for sameness or rigidity.
The prevalence of Autism continues to rise each year. Fifteen years ago, in 2000, the Center for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network reported that approximately 1 in every 150 children were diagnosed with autism. Currently, the most recent report is that approximately 1 in every 68 children will be diagnosed with autism. The prevalence of a diagnosis of autism is higher in boys, with approximately 1 in every 42 boys receiving the diagnosis. Whereas, the prevalence of a diagnosis in girls is less frequent, with approximately 1 in every 189 girls receiving the diagnosis. However, there have not been any differences identified within racial, ethical or socioeconomic groups - Autism is diagnosed just as frequently in each of these sub-groups.
Because the prevalence of autism is so high, it affects a significant amount of people. Not only are the people directly diagnosed with autism affected, but their family and friends are impacted as well. It is tremendously important to have the recognition of Autism through April’s Autism Awareness Month in order to show necessary support for these individuals. Individuals who directly receive a diagnosis of autism are challenged daily with the struggle of learning to navigate a world that is often quite confusing due to communication barriers and intricate social nuances that are difficult to interpret. Likewise, the family members of individuals on the Autism Spectrum are challenged with a society that often lacks understanding and compassion for the distressing behaviors that can accompany a diagnosis of Autism.
During Autism Awareness Month, you can make a difference by listening to the story of someone touched by Autism. Learn more about that person’s struggles and vulnerabilities, as well as his/her successes and triumphs. Each person has a unique story to tell and simply giving that person the opportunity to share his/her story will demonstrate support by showing compassion. You can also show support for Autism in the month of April by wearing, displaying, or sharing the symbol of a puzzle piece. The puzzle piece has become the symbol for Autism, and it represents the complexity of the diagnosis and the diversity of the people it affects. A diagnosis of autism is multifaceted and for true progress to occur it requires putting many pieces together.
Dr. Breanne Hartley, BCBA-D
Clinical Director of the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism