Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

As we celebrate Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd, NAMI Connecticut wants to take this opportunity to increase our readers' understanding of autism. While a great deal has become known in recent years, more research is needed to develop a greater appreciation for its nuances, challenges and solutions. Here's what we know now about this incredibly diverse disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Overview

Once known as a single disorder called "autism," today it is recognized as a spectrum disorder. That is, people along this arc can exhibit a spectrum of skills, behaviors and impairment levels that fall within the broader Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. While some people are severely disabled as the result of ASD, others are considered high functioning with symptoms that are barely noticeable to those who don't know them well. Many more fall in between these two.

A development disorder, ASD can affect the way a person interacts, communicates and socializes with those around them. ASD is often marked by activities, interests and patterns of behavior that are repetitive and/or restricted. According to a report about the prevalence of autism released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2014, autism occurs in one of every 68 children born. This rate is nearly twice as high as the rate of one in every 125 children noted in 2004.

Early Diagnosis is Key

While those who are diagnosed with ASD don't outgrow the disorder as they age, early assessment and diagnosis can lead to treatments that can improve life's outcomes. Because symptoms of ASD are often apparent within the first three years of life, it's crucial that parents and caregivers become aware of what to watch out for. It's also important to note that while boys are diagnosed with autism four times at the rate of girls, both genders can be affected. ASD also affects all social, racial and ethnic backgrounds at an equal rate.

Children with ASD show difficulty when it comes to engaging in the routine human interactions that many people take for granted. While most babies tend to be social by the time they are two or three months old, those with ASD might avoid making eye contact or fail to respond to their own name.

Other symptoms to be alert for as a child continues to grow and develop include the following:

  • Behaviors that are routine or repetitive such as eating only a specific food each day, walking in a particular pattern and hand flapping
  • Difficulty in making eye contact
  • Limited pretend play because much of the time is spent lining up toys instead of playing
  • Misinterpreting facial cues and expressions
  • Language development delays
  • Difficulty expressing emotions
  • Fixation only on part of an object like a wheel that is rotating
  • Social interactions are challenging due to a lack of understanding of peers

If you have questions about ASD or mental illness, NAMI Connecticut is here to help. We offer a variety of resources including information on timely issues, methods of empowerment, support groups in CT and more.

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