What is Autism?
Autism is a complex neurological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain. Typically, this pervasive developmental disorder appears during the first three years of life and affects the individual’s social interactions and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. Autism is a spectrum disorder – symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in any combination and with varying degrees of severity. No two individuals on the autism spectrum are alike – each has his or her own unique set of behaviors. Currently, there are no effective means to prevent autism, no fully effective treatments, and no cure. However, research indicates that early intervention can result in significant improvements for many children with autism.
What Causes Autism?
There is no known single cause for autism, but research indicates that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Researchers are investigating suspected links between autism and heredity, genetics and medical problems. Research also indicates that environmental toxins which are more prevalent today than in the past, are contributing to the rise in increasing occurrences of autism spectrum disorders. Those who are at risk may be especially vulnerable, as their ability to metabolize and detoxify these exposures can be compromised. Learn more by visiting the Autism Society website or Autism Speaks.
How Prevalent is Autism and What is the Cost?
Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the world, affecting an average of one in 88 children in the United States, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups and is four to five times more likely to affect boys than girls. One in 70 boys is affected by autism and 1.5 million Americans today live with an autism spectrum disorder. Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health (Ganz, 2006), caring for an individual with autism can cost more than $3 million in their lifetime and the total bill to U.S. society could reach $35 billion a year.
Ganz, M. (2006). Understanding Autism: From Basic Neuroscience to Treatment. Boca Raton: