What is Autism?

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Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today.

In March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 59 births in the United States. The spotlight shown on autism as a result of the prevalence increase opens opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve these families facing a lifetime of supports for their children.

Currently, the Autism Society estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism.  This figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, in addition to related therapeutic services and caregiver costs.

Know the Signs: Early Identification Can Change Lives

While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that may reduce some of the challenges associated with the developmental disability.   Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013) Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is comprised of these primary characteristics:

  • Impairment in social communication and interaction. Characteristics may include the following:
    • Deficits in reciprocity
    • Deficits in nonverbal communication
    • Difficulty developing peer relationships
  • Presence of restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior. Characteristics may include the following:
    • Preoccupation with objects or topics of interest
    • Inflexibility
    • Repetitive movements or speech
    • Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory stimulation

For a person to meet criteria, characteristics must be present during a child’s early development. However, the characteristics may not become evident until the child is older and is placed in social situations that exceed his or her social abilities (VCU Autism Center of Excellence).

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.

For more info on what to do if you are concerned about your child’s development visit this website.