Nearly a quarter-century ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, inclusion, and self-determination for all, and assure that each person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. This year we want to go beyond simply promoting autism awareness to encouraging friends and collaborators to become partners in the movement toward acceptance and appreciation. (AutismSociety)

ASD is a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism, but increased awareness and early diagnosis/intervention and access to appropriate services/supports lead to significantly improved outcomes.

Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. Again, a person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

Here are some signs to look for in the children in your life:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play

 

You don’t have to wait for a diagnosis of autism for your child to receive services to address related developmental delays and learning challenges. Access these services free of charge through your state’s Early Intervention program or your school district’s Special Education office. Also ask your doctor to refer your child for further medical and behavioral evaluations and therapies.

Each child or adult with autism is unique. Treatments and supports that work for one may not work for another. As a result, each person’s treatment plan should follow a thorough evaluation of strengths as well as challenges.

Depending on their needs, children who have autism can receive a broad range of therapies. Typically, they include a combination of behavior therapy, speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training and sometimes feeding therapy. In addition, parents may receive training on how to work with their children at home. Ideally, parents, teachers, and therapists will all work together to integrate their approaches into the child’s daily life.

Behavioral therapies are the foundation of treatment for most children on the autism spectrum. When behavioral therapies are not enough to curb harmful behaviors, the family may want to discuss other options, such as adding medication, with their child’s doctor. It’s crucial that this discussion – and the highly personal decision that results – include consideration of benefits balanced against side effects.

The therapies described above have the backing of research showing their effectiveness for people who have autism. Autism Speaks encourages parents and adults to pursue treatments that are evidence-based.

Some adults with autism don’t want treatment, per se. They may embrace their differences, yet need certain accommodations, or supports, tailored to their personal challenges. Take, for example, the extreme sensitivities to certain sounds, smells or lights that are common among people with autism. Someone on the spectrum may need a classroom or workplace accommodation to ease these sensory issues.

Adults severely affected by autism may need more-extensive supports such as vocational services, home-based, and community-based services. This is particularly true when someone with autism also has an intellectual disability, as is the case for around a third of people on the autism spectrum.

If you are an adult looking for treatment options, it’s particularly important to explore your strengths alongside your challenges. The more you understand your strengths and needs, the better you and your healthcare provider can tailor therapies and supports that help you achieve the life you want. This guidance is likewise appropriate for the parent or caregiver of an adult who needs assistance in setting up a supportive network of services.

For instance, many adults on the spectrum struggle with communication and social challenges that can interfere with obtaining or maintaining employment, establishing and fostering relationships and achieving independence and quality of life. This can result in social isolation, anxiety, depression, and problems with emotional control.

As a result, many adults seek help from a social worker or other mental health professionals who have experience working with adults on the spectrum. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one practical, skill-building approach that has helped many people on the autism spectrum. It involves examining problematic beliefs and behaviors, and so, is best suited for those who can communicate through verbal or nonverbal means. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), though developed and studied primarily in children, also helps some adults on the autism spectrum. Many mental health clinics can provide referrals to social skills workshops and support groups for adults who have autism. (Autism Speaks )

There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to in neurotypical children. Researchers do not know the exact cause of autism but are investigating several theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems. Caregivers can help make decreased independence more bearable using strategies like these:

Facts and Satistics


  • About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)
  • Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014)
  • More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)
  • Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). (CDC, 2014) Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. (CDC, 2008)
  • Prevalence has increased by 6-15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010. (Based on biennial numbers from the CDC)
  • Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually. (Buescher et al., 2014)
  • A majority of costs in the U.S. are in adult services – $175-196 billion, compared to $61-66 billion for children. (Buescher et al., 2014)
  • Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism. 2007 Sep;11(5):453-63; The economic consequences of autistic spectrum disorder among children in a Swedish municipality. Järbrink K1.)
  • 1 percent of the adult population of the United Kingdom has autism spectrum disorder. (Brugha T.S. et al., 2011)
  • The U.S. cost of autism over the lifespan is about $2.4 million for a person with an intellectual disability, or $1.4 million for a person without an intellectual disability. (Buescher et al., 2014)
  • 35 percent of young adults (ages 19-23) with autism have not had a job or received postgraduate education after leaving high school. (Shattuck et al., 2012)
  • It costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism. (Lavelle et al., 2014) (The average cost of educating a student is about $12,000 – NCES, 2014)
  • In June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed, meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed. (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed.) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014)

    Please note: The information in this post is not meant to diagnose or treat, and should not take the place of personal consultation, as appropriate, with a qualified healthcare professional and/or behavioral therapist.

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