This week, the posts are going to be built around the theme of awareness. I have been a bit lax lately in posting, and as such missed out on the chance to post regarding World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. Every year since Autism Awareness Day has been officially recognized M.P. Mike Lake addresses Parliament, detailing his personal experiences with autism, below is his 2012 speech. (2008, 2009, 2010)
Autism, or more correctly Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is defined by the CDC as a “group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges”.The proposed revision of DSM-5 lists four criteria that must be met for diagnosis of ASDs, which are; 1) persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, 3) symptoms must be present in early childhood, and 4) all these symptoms limit and impair everyday functioning. This past year, the CDC released a staggering figure that 1 in 88 children in the United States have been diagnosed with a form of autism, representing a 23% increase from their 2009 findings. While there is no doubt that some of this increase is due to improved detection, identification, the number is still staggering, especially when you consider that more children will be diagnosed with an ASD this year than with cancer, juvenile diabetes, or pediatric AIDS combined. The diagnosis of ASDs are 5 times more likely in boys (1 in 54) than in girls (1 in 252), and are reported in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon notes that “Autism is not limited to a single region or a country; it is a worldwide challenge that requires global action”
The increased rate of diagnosis is actually a good thing, because once identified or diagnosed, parents of children with ASDs can engage the supports, therapies, modes of learning, and assistive technologies that can help a child express their full potential of their unique atypical mind. A common intervention in most of the world (time to catch up France!) begins by treating autism as primarily an educational, rather than a medical, problem- which when applied early can result in upwards of 70% of autistic children acquiring functional language skills.
The majority of autism awareness campaigns and events raise money for researching potential genetic and environmental risk factors (a large and ongoing debate that I will revisit at a later time). However, perhaps one of the most important and often neglected areas of research and funding is improving the quality of life for the millions of autistic adults, especially as those 1 in 88 children are going to grow up into adults. The blog NeuroTribes notes that when teenagers with an ASD graduate high school, they and their families are often cut adrift into a society that offers little to enable them to live a healthy, secure, independent, and productive life in their own community. This sentiment is wonderfully captured in a great titled Autism Awareness is Not Enough: Here’s How to Change the World. Quit reading this and go read it, now.