April is National Autism Awareness Month
Chances are very good that you already know someone with autism or a family member of someone with autism. One out of every 88 children will be diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by the age of eight, and for boys the odds are one in 54. An estimated 1.5 million Americans are living with the disorder.
April is National Autism Awareness Month and an excellent time to learn more about the disorder and issues related to it.
What is autism?
The Autism Society describes it as 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, which means it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism.
Currently, there is no cure for autism, but it is treatable. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention can significantly improve outcomes. In many cases, by intervening at an early age, developmental delays caused by the disorder can be minimized and the chances for reaching normal developmental milestones are increased. Beginning therapies early can also make a significant difference in creating more enjoyable, productive and emotionally-connected lives.
Some signs of autism in young children are a lack of or a delay in spoken language, repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms, little or no eye contact, lack of interest in peer relationships, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play, and a fixation on parts of objects.
Early intervention programs focus on building better communication and social skills, managing obsessive, repetitive and challenging behaviors, developing daily living skills, improving physical coordination, teaching attention skills and play, speech therapy, learning the “give and take” in normal conversation, and parent training and support.
There is a great range of outcomes for children who are diagnosed with autism, but early diagnosis and intervention are consistently seen as the keys to improvement. Some individuals learn speech, writing, self-care, and social skills on their own. Over time, some autistic children begin behaving in a way that is almost indistinguishable from the way neuro-typical children behave.
Some individuals become mainstreamed after years of hard work and intensive training. Some develop slowly, but never lose their diagnoses. Another possible outcome is that a child may be fairly typical during childhood but become "more autistic" in adulthood. Most adults with moderate to severe autism live with their parents or in residential facilities with caregivers. Higher-functioning individuals may opt to live in a supported-living situation with modest assistance or choose to live independently.
There are several excellent national and local organizations that deal with autism. Two that I’d recommend as good starting points for researching the disorder and exploring available resources and support are Behavioral Intervention Associates (www.bia4autism.org) and Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org).
Behavioral Intervention Associates is local with offices in the Bay Area and the Central Valley. It provides treatment and remediation to children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which include autism, Asperger syndrome, and related disorders. It also provides training to treatment providers as well as provides trained personnel for the families of children with autism. The organization has served more than 500 children and families affected by ASD.
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism research and advocacy organization and is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism. It is also committed to increasing awareness of autism while advocating for the needs of individuals and their families.
Special Needs Planning
Something often overlooked until later in life for people with autism is special needs planning. It is important to work with a qualified attorney to do proper special needs planning for loved ones. Additionally, a Special Needs Trust can be established in order to protect and provide assistance to individuals with autism while protecting their financial interests and public benefits eligibility.