Everyday, the term Autism is thrown around in the media, but most people don't know exactly what is autism.
The best description I've been able to to find was written by the great people at Autism Speaks. According to their website, Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person's lifetime. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Today, 1 in 68 individuals in the United States is diagnosed with autism. Approximately 1 in 42 boys will be diagnosed. This makes autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups and is four times more likely to strike boys than girls. Autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others. It is also associated with rigid routines and repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively arranging objects or following very specific routines. Symptoms can range from very mild to quite severe.
Autism was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the same time, a German scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a milder form of the disorder that is now known as Asperger Syndrome. These two disorders are listed in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as two of the five developmental disorders that fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorders. The others are Rett Syndrome, PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. All of these disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social abilities, and also by repetitive behaviors.
So, basically, what that is saying is a child with autism struggles to communicate. They are prone to lose control when they are taken outside of their normal routine. Some children will eventually learn to adapt and control their meltdowns (a form of uncontrollable behavior which occurs when an autism child has trouble processing their sensory perception), but most will struggle with autism their entire lives. This places extreme wear on a family, mentally, emotionally, and financially. On average, autism costs a family about $60,000 per year, which is the average income of one parent in a two income home.
As a mother of an autistic child, I feel compelled to help spread the word about this disorder. Boys are five times more likely to have autism than girls. At this time, there is no medical cure, but with further research and support that can change. Research brings us closer to understanding autism and what causes it. Knowledge and awareness are the key to overcoming this disorder.
So, the next time you're in a supermarket and you see a child who seems to be out of control. Take a step back and look closer at the situation. You just might be watching a child with autism. Don't judge the parents for their misbehaving child. Don't chastise them for not having a handle on their kid. Autism is anything but easy on a family. It's a constant, daily struggle, but with the right love and support, a family can and will survive.If you would like more information about autism, please visit Autism Speaks.