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For decades, many people have thought of autism as a disease or a disorder, a major problem that was claiming a significant number of children as “victims” on a yearly basis. Recently however, a growing number of adults on the autism spectrum, have proven these thoughts and ideals to be wrong and called for more inclusion, acceptance and respect by the community at large.
Autism is is a spectrum condition, which means it can range from scarcely perceptible difficulties to severe disability that affects the way a person sees the world, processes information and interacts with other people.
Autistic individuals typically find it difficult to develop social relationships, communicate with others and think in the abstract. The condition is know as the “invisible diagnosis”, as autistic individuals look the same as everyone else.. Diagnoses on the autism spectrum are varied, and include:
- Classical autism: have all the classical autistic characteristics and an accompanying learning disability.
- Asperger syndrome: normally have average or above-average levels of intelligence, and are often highly educated, but they may experience significant social difficulties
Autism is the fastest growing developmental diagnosis in the world today. The CDC estimates that 1 in 45 children have autism in the United States. This rate is higher than children diagnosed with HIV, Diabetes and Cancer combined.
Autism occurs across cultural and language barriers. It affects around six times as many men as women.
People with autism are more likely than the general population to have accompanying problems such as dyslexia (difficulty with reading, spelling and/or writing), dyspraxia (severe difficulty with tasks requiring fine motor skills such as drawing or writing) and digestive problems. They are also vulnerable to developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
The causes of autism are still being investigated. Many experts believe that the pattern of behaviour from which autism is diagnosed may not result from a single cause. There is strong evidence to suggest that autism can be caused by a variety of physical factors, all of which affect brain development. Autism is not due to emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up.
There is evidence to suggest that genetic factors are responsible for some forms of autism. Autism is likely to be caused by several genes interacting rather than by one single gene. For some years, scientists have been attempting to identify which genes might be implicated in autism.
Each person with autism has individual gifts, strengths and difficulties, like anyone else. However, a person will be diagnosed as having autism if, to a greater or lesser extent, they show some of a range of typical characteristics such as:
- no babbling or pointing by age 1
- no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- no response to name
- loss of language or social skills
- poor eye contact
- excessive lining up of toys or objects
- no smiling or social responsiveness
Having autism can cause a person problems in some areas of life, but the characteristics associated with autism mean that there are some things that they may be able to do better than other people. Many people with autism are intelligent, with high IQ levels.
Colleagues of people with autism have described a variety of strengths, which often include:
- a good eye for detail and reliability
- an excellent memory for facts and figures
- the ability to thrive in a structured, well-organised work environment.
Living with a child who has autism can have effects on every family member. It is a uniquely shared experience for these families and can affect all aspects of family functioning. It can broaden horizons, increase family members’ awareness of their inner strength, enhance family cohesion, and encourage connections to community groups or religious institutions. On the flip side, the time and financial costs, physical and emotional demands, and logistical complexities associated with raising a child with autism can have far-reaching effects.
Financial costs of current teaching techniques and therapies for autistic children tend to be very expensive often running about on average more than $17000 per child per year in the United States.
A new study estimates that autism cost more than $126 billion each year in the U.S. – an amount that reflects both the costs of providing educational and medical services as well as the costs of not intervening early and effectively enough to prevent lifelong disability. The lifetime costs of autism, including direct and indirect costs, have been recently estimated at $1.4 million for someone without intellectual disability and $2.3 million for someone with intellectual disability. Non-medical costs, such as intervention services, special education, child day care, and residential placements for adults account for the largest proportion of costs.
Active community involvement both in awareness and acceptance can help change that by promoting inclusion, job creation and helping each child reach his or her potential.