April is dedicated to spreading autism awareness. The Autism Society initiated autism awareness about a quarter of a century ago, and their goal is to encourage others to help spread acceptance of autism spectrum disorder, ASD.
According to the Autism Society, one in every 68 children in America have a level of ASD, making it one of the most rapidly increasing neurological conditions. Due to this high number of prevalent cases, the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is one of the most recognized symbols in the world.
Katie Huettel a sophomore, elementary education major, who attended school for people with learning disabilities for seven years, is accustomed to interacting with people with autism and she mentioned the importance of the autism puzzle ribbon.
“It is good that the autism puzzle piece symbol is well recognized because that means more people are aware of it and it can help stop the disorder [from being] not known.”
There are several ways to help get involved, such as participating in local events, looking into partner opportunities, online events/ activities and to make donations toward the cause. The Global Autism Project defines autism as, “a pervasive neuro-developmental condition which affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.”
Those with autism have issues engaging in social situations because it is very common for them to have difficulty recognizing social behaviors and social cues.
“It is very true that those with autism have difficulty recognizing social behaviors and social cues, but it’s just because they see and understand the world differently,” Huettel mentioned.
Symptoms that children and adults with autism experience differ throughout their life; they can either become mild or more severe over time.
A symptom that is usually one of the first signs in young children is delayed or difficulty speaking. Lack of communication is the most common symptom, and this normally begins very early.
Signs that parents notice in their young children are the child not responding to their name and seeming uninterested in interacting with others. This symptom occasionally gets confused with the possibility of the child being deaf. However, this is normally ruled out by getting a hearing test for the child.
Something that goes along with difficulty interacting with others includes not being able to understand facial expressions and body language.
Another symptom is repetitive body movement; these repetitive movements can include hand-flapping, spinning, rocking and tapping.
“Sometimes others tease them because of repetitive movements because they don’t understand it. But teasing won’t make any difference, except make it worse. Those with autism can be very sensitive to things, such as loud noises and bright lights, and it can cause them to have a sensory overload. They have a lot of quirks, but a lot of the people I know with autism are very intelligent despite these setbacks, ” Huettel added.
People who meet an individual with autism may interpret these signs as shyness or standoffish behavior.
This kind of assumption, however, is one of the many reasons why organizations want to raise awareness of the disorder.
Huettel added, “People with autism are just like us. They just see the world differently. Many of them are very intelligent. The things I’ve experienced are them either being way too friendly and not knowing boundaries or them being too shy.”
Due to advancements in childhood detection, the disorder is most commonly associated with children.
There is a two-stage process to diagnosis a child with autism. The first stage is general development screening in which the child’s behavior and communication is observed. If the doctor feels as though there is a chance the child has autism, they move onto the second stage.
The second stage includes professionals who diagnose ASD. The evaluation assesses cognitive thinking skills, language development and age-appropriate skills the child needs to do during their daily life, states the National Institute of Mental Health.
There have been many research initiatives on autism, but there is still no exact cause of how one develops ASD. Some scientists suggest that there are genes that interact causing the development of ASD.
There are some risk factors that researchers have seen that may influence the disorder, such as siblings with ASD, older parents having a baby, a baby being underweight after birth and genetic conditions like down syndrome.
Since there are so many cases of young children and autism, there are many services available to help the children develop skills they will need in their daily lives. These services help address social skills and verbal communication.
However, even with help, children are never fully “cured” of the disorder. Children who have ASD will have it their entire life, and it may worsen or get better as they get older. The spectrum ranges from mild to severe, which is determined through their screening for diagnosis. Autism Support of West Shore says there are three types of autism: autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome and pervasive development disorder.
Autistic disorder is the most common form of autism as it deals with delayed speech, social challenges and little interests.
Huettel describes some of the actions portrayed by a few of the students with autism, who mostly had autistic disorder, from her high school.
“Those with autism I spoke to during my time at Pepin Academy spoke too loud, didn’t know personal space or didn’t speak too much,” Huettel said.
Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism as the symptoms are less severe. Those with Asperger syndrome may still experience challenges with social interaction and unusual behaviors, but they normally do not have issues with communication and intellectual setbacks.
Pervasive development disorder (PDD) is an even milder form of autism and mainly focuses on the individual having social and communication problems. Those with PDD still may experience other symptoms of autism, but it is usually little to none.
Autism is very complex and specific to each individual. It is normally diagnosed in children, but it can also be diagnosed in adults as well. As said earlier, this complex disorder can be very hard to understand to those who do not know much about it. That is why April is dedicated to spreading awareness to those who are unfamiliar with autism.
“Autism is like a rainbow spectrum; there are so many different kinds for everyone who has it. However, those with disabilities, such as autism, have to work harder so they can excel like those without disabilities that set them when it comes to learning,” Huettel added.