Autism is used to describe a collection of developmental disabilities in children that can lead to significant social communication and behavioral changes. Autism, or Autistic Disorder is actually one in an associated group of disorders called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Basically, people with ASDs handle information in their brains differently than other people. There are three basic type of ASDs:
Autistic Disorder: : “classical” autism. People with Autistic Disorder usually have significant problems with language deficits, communication, and possibly unusual behaviors. They may also have intellectual disabilities.
Aspergers Syndrome: usually milder symptoms compared to Autistic Disorder. Although they may have some unusual behaviors and problems with social interactions they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder: people with this diagnosis may meet some of the above criteria for Autistic Disorder or Aspergers Syndrome but have fewer and milder symptoms with some social and communication problems.
ASDS can begin before the age of three and can last throughout a person’s life. Some children can show signs as early as the first few months of life while others may develop normally until around 18-24 months of age and then stop gaining new skills or lose those skills that they previously had. By age tow a diagnosis by a professional can be considered very reliable. Unfortunately, many children do not receive a diagnosis until much later and this delay can impact their treatments as research shows that early intervention can greatly improve a child’s development.
ASDs are an urgent public health concern. They occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups but their current cause/causes are unclear despite much ongoing research. The CDC currently estimates that as many as 1 in 80 children have an ASD. Recent studies also show that the estimated lifetime cost to care for an individual with an ASD can exceed 3 million dollars. There is currently debate on whether the recent increase in ASD diagnosis lies in an increased awareness and broader definition of the disorders or is due to some as of yet undefined risk factors/causes. What cannot be debated is the staggering impact that this disorder can have on our children and community.