Editor’s note: April is National Autism Awareness Month. Over the next several weeks, stories by Susan Colón will serve to educate and enlighten those who may not be familiar with autism.

Just about anyone you might speak to would be familiar with the word autism.

And although they may think they have an idea of what autism really is, an extensive group of surveys taken nationwide would show how very little most people really know about this group of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).

The NAAR’s findings, “Awareness of autism is high but Americans generally have a low autism IQ. Americans have a low level of knowledge about how prevalent Autism is, who it affects and how to identify its warning signs but do recognize that Autism affects people of all backgrounds.”

The CDC’s (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) most recent findings updated early this year found the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is that about one in 68 children has been identified with ASD, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. And ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. ASDs are about 4.5 times more common among boys (one in 42) than among girls (one in 189).

To give a comparison of how these numbers have increased, in 2000, one in 150 children were identified with an ASD. With improved methods of assessment, a broader definition of ASD criteria are attributors to the increase.

There are many theories as to the actual cause of ASDs. Aside from the many possible causes is something most everyone can agree upon — the earlier a child receives qualitative early intervention, the better the outcome in most cases. Birth to age 3 seems to be the window of time most beneficial, yet many children typically receive a diagnosis or treatment between ages 4-11.

That is why there has been such a push to create awareness of the ASDs and the Early Signs, so parents will seek an evaluation, or assessment. There are three areas of qualitative impairment commonly observed in ASDs, they are in the areas of social skills, communication and unusual interests and behaviors.

Social skills — “Social issues are one of the most common symptoms in all of the types of ASD. People with an ASD do not have just social ‘difficulties’ like shyness. The social issues they have cause serious problems in everyday life.” (CDC). This lack of social skills may manifest in a variety of ways that is inaccurately perceived as something such as defiance, when the root cause is the absence of the social skills which come naturally to neurotypical people.

Communication — “Each person with ASD has different communication skills. Some people can speak well. Others can’t speak at all or only very little. About 40% of children with an ASD do not talk at all. About 25–30 percent of children with ASD have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Others might speak, but not until later in childhood (CDC). Communication is more than just speaking, although many children with an ASD have speech and language needs. Communication is about reciprocal interaction, being able to understand and share, interact and participate with others.

Unusual interests and behaviors — Many people with ASD have unusual interest or behaviors. They may perseverate or “get stuck” on a topic or interest.

Examples of unusual interests and behaviors related to ASD: Lines up toys or other objects, Plays with toys the same way every time, Likes parts of objects (e.g., wheels), Is very organize, Gets upset by minor changes, Has obsessive interests, Has to follow certain routines, Flaps hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles.

“Repetitive motions are actions repeated over and over again. They can involve one part of the body or the entire body or even an object or toy. For instance, people with an ASD might spend a lot of time repeatedly flapping their arms or rocking from side to side. They might repeatedly turn a light on and off or spin the wheels of a toy car. These types of activities are known as self-stimulation or ‘stimming.’” (CDC)

If your child is displaying more than three of any of the examples please consider an evaluation or assessment. There are agencies that offer them for free. For Children infant to 3 years of age, contact CMSU Early Intervention at 570-275-6080, or for children above the age of 3 contact the CSIU at 570-523-1155 and ask for Carol Zosh.

Is your child meeting the developmental milestones for each age from birth?

There is an interactive checklist (and App) to follow your baby’s milestones at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html.

(Next in this Autism Awareness Series — more on Childhood Early Intervention)

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