April is National Autism Awareness month. There are many organizations out there that raise funds and spread the message of awareness, but one of my favorites is the Autism Society, who also promotes autism acceptance, inclusion and more. Since 1965, the Autism Society has made it their mission to “make it a better world” for all people living with Autism. The set out to improve the quality of life of those living with autism and I believe that while we have a ways to go they certainly have begun to pave the way.
There are tens of thousands of people (children and adults) diagnosed with autism every year. Currently about 1 percent of the world population has autism with 1 in 68 having autism in the United States (CDC, 2014). This means that more than 3.5 million Americans live with autism.
That said, there are still many people who do not know WHAT autism really is. As such I feel it is important to continue to educate the public. So here is a quick breakdown on what Autism is, according to the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA):
- Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability.
- Children with ASD, have social, communication and language problems.
- They also have restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, such as flipping objects, echolalia, or excessive smelling or touching of objects.
- Autism may be mild or severe.
- If you know one child with autism, you know ONE child with autism. In other words, no two children with autism are the same or have the exact same struggles.
As a pediatric speech-language pathologist that specializes in working with families and children living with autism, it is important to understand and discuss the various characteristics or challenges that come into play when a child receives an autism diagnosis. Some of the most common challenges, people with autism face, include:
- Social skills: while some children shy away from interacting with others and prefer to play alone, many would like to play with their peers but simply do not how to go about the interaction
- Empathy: children with autism find it hard to show empathy to others (remember these characteristics are not true to ALL children with autism as some a very empathetic beings), but can be taught to understand and empathize with others feelings
- Physical contact: some children or people with autism do not like to be touched
- Speech: some children may present with echolalia where they repeat heard words/phrases/sentences without meaning or an intent to communicate through those verbal repetitions. Others may be nonverbal or severely delayed in their speech development.
- Sudden changes to environment; some people with autism have a hard time handling sudden changes to the environment like loud noises, changes in lighting and/or smells.
- Changes to routine & behavior: while many children thrive when there is a routine in place, children with autism can become very dependent on it. When a change in the routine or schedule occurs this can often lead to undesirable or challenging behaviors. An unexpected change in routine is very unsettling to a child with autism.
Please share this article to help others understand autism better. It is my goal to educate and create acceptance for people with autism, while encouraging people with autism to be themselves!
Note: This post first appeared on thedcladies.com on April 11, 2016.