Autism is a developmental disability diagnosis that first made its debut in 1912, and is now known as Autism Spectrum Disorders, which includes Autism, Asperger’s, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders.  Since then, the diagnosis has become more common with the Center for Disease Control reporting that an estimated 1 in 88 children are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and boys being 5 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with the disorder.  The CDC also states that from 2002-2008 there has been a 78% increase in the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders.  According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, Text Revision, Autism Spectrum Disorders are manifested by impairments in the areas of social interaction and communication.  The DSM-IV-TR states that individuals diagnosed with ASD will also exhibit repetitive or stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and/or activities, and will have had a delay in functioning in social interaction, language, or imaginative play.

Recent media coverage of the school shooting in Newtown, CT., has linked Autism Spectrum Disorders to such tragedies.  In addition, television and movies often portray people with mental illness as being dangerous.  However, the truth is that people with Autism Spectrum Disorders are no more likely than anyone else to commit acts of violence.  In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “Research has shown that the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses.”  Often, people with ASD are the victims of bullying and violence.  Linking Autism Spectrum Disorders to violent acts only perpetuates the stigma of mental illness and discriminates against those on the spectrum.

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is one of the most well-known and successful persons with Asperger’s Disorder, a milder form of Autism.  Not only is Temple a renowned author, speaker, and expert on Autism Spectrum Disorders, she is an American doctor of animal science.  Dr. Grandin credits much of her success to the early intervention she received, which she states is crucial to fostering appropriate development.  Although there is no “cure” for Autism, it is treatable.  Early intervention and diagnosis can lead to significant improvements in outcome for children diagnosed on the spectrum.  Temple Grandin is a prime example of the difference early intervention can make.

Autism Spectrum disorders can be detected and diagnosed as early as 18 months of age.  The CDC reports that there are several signs and symptoms that parents and caregivers should be aware of.  Some signs and symptoms include: Your child not responding to their name by 12 months of age; no shared interest in toys or pointing to objects of interest; little to no eye contact; a delay in language development or having no speech at all; unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel; and hand flapping, rocking, or spinning in circles.   If you suspect that your child is not meeting their developmental milestones, your pediatrician should be able to assess this during a well-child check and provide appropriate recommendations if necessary.

By: Ashley Parker

Ashley works with children and families as a crisis worker in the home-based program,  She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2010 with a masters degree in community counseling.

National Autism Awareness Month