Autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the U.S. It affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys and costs a family an average of $60,000 a year. Despite this prevalence rate and these figures, it is astounding that people know very little about the disorder. Some facts that may still be unknown about autism include:
1. People think autism is a single condition. It isn’t. Autism is actually a spectrum of disorders. It can be a demonstration of a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders including communication difficulties, social impairments and repetitive, stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior. That is precisely why it’s called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD includes autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. The only thing people are right about is that autism is the most common form of ASD.
2. There is no known cause of ASD. Genes have been shown to play a role but while most people believe autism is an inheritable neurodevelopmental disorder, in reality, there is no single gene or gene mutation that causes it. That is why it is extremely difficult to identify a genetic cause. You can’t pinpoint to one gene and say this is what causes autism. There are approximately 200 to 400 different genes that can cause autism. Identifying a genetic cause is not simple because these 200 or 400 genes all fit together in a pathway; like a network that works together.
3. It is difficult to end up giving birth to a child with ASD but very few women are aware of the fact that they can reduce the risk of having a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder if they take folic acid four weeks before becoming pregnant and during the first weeks of pregnancy. In addition risk of giving birth to a child with ASD also increases if the mother develops maternal diabetes or an obesity problem during pregnancy. Getting the flu while being pregnant or running a fever for more than a week during pregnancy also increases the risk of giving birth to a baby with an ASD. Finally, women who are exposed to traffic-related pollution and expose their unborn child while in utero or before twelve months of age to such pollution have a greater risk of giving birth to a child with autism.
4. Children with ASD interpret language literally. Often people around them do not realize this or are unaware of this aspect of the disorder. Instead of using confusing statements such as “Hold your horses, cowboy” when all you simply want to say is “Stop running” is unfair and ends up confusing the individual. Just use simple words and simple directions. “It’s pouring cats and dogs” will not make any sense to a child with ASD. Simply say “It’s raining hard.”
5. Reacting negatively to certain behavior of a child with ASD will make the situation worse. Remember, they are not deliberately trying to frustrate you or make you angry. It is a disorder and it is more difficult for them then for you. Raising your voice or screaming at them is not the solution. In any case, all they will hear is the yelling and not the words. Mocking them, being sarcastic with them, mimicking them, calling them names, accusing them, comparing them to other children, reminding them of other poor behavior, categorizing them negatively are all reactions that you should avoid when dealing with a person with ASD. Be supportive; you can be honest but not harsh; you can be critical but gentle. Acting mature is your responsibility when it comes to dealing with someone with ASD.
6. There are still some that believe autism is contagious. It is not. Keeping children away from autistic children is not the way to go but instead accepting them and including them is actually more helpful for a child with autism as well as the child that is opening his heart to someone suffering from ASD.
7. Children with ASD tend to suffer more from gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
Autism is a mental disorder that requires careful management and support. However, it is important to understand the disease before undertaking its management.