In honor of Autism Awareness Month (April), we put together some interesting facts about autism.
To some, the word autism can sound scary or daunting. There are many myths and misconceptions about this developmental disability. But, as a mother of a teen with autism, I’m here to tell you that information is power. The more you know about autism, the less scary it will seem. In fact, I bet you will realize that neurotypical humans aren’t really that different than those on the spectrum! Share these facts with your kids too—odds are they will meet a person with autism at least once in their life.
- Autism is a spectrum disorder and not all people diagnosed with ASD will have the same gifts, abilities, or challenges.
- Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys. Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism.
- Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average.
- Children with autism do progress – early intervention is key.
- Comorbid conditions often associated with autism include Fragile X, allergies, asthma, epilepsy, bowel disease, gastrointestinal/digestive disorders, persistent viral infections, PANDAS, feeding disorders, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, Tourette Syndrome, OCD, sensory integration dysfunction, sleeping disorders, immune disorders, autoimmune disorders, and neuroinflammation.
- No one is sure what causes autism. Through twin studies, scientists have determined that autism is a genetically based condition. For example, if one identical twin has autism then there is an 80-90% chance that the other twin will also be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The chance that fraternal twins will both be affected by ASD if one twin is affected is approximately 3-10%.
- It is possible to detect signs of autism in infants as young as 6-18 months. For example, if a baby fixates on objects or does not respond to people, he or she may be exhibiting early signs of an autism spectrum disorder.
- Older babies and toddlers may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact, lack joint attention, or engage in repetitive movements such as rocking, or arm flapping. They may play with toys in unusual ways.
- The most effective treatments available today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and occupational, speech and physical therapy, which have proven to be the most effective.
- There is no cure for autism, and most individuals with ASD will need support and services throughout their lifetime.
- In the past, ASD was sometimes broken down into other diagnoses such as Asperger’s and Pervasive Development Disorder. In fact, my son was officially diagnosed as PDD/NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified). However, in 2013, the DSM-5 lumped them all together.
- Obsessions or fixations can be intense, but can also teach the whole family things they didn’t know. In fact, they can be used to teach the child things they may not be as interested in. During my son’s car phase, he learned to count cars (and then to multiply by 4 to find the number of wheels), understand that symbols stood for words, and even a little about countries as he learned which car came from which location.
- Change is not easy for any kid, but is especially difficult for those on the spectrum. They love their routines. Knowing about events that are coming up can make it easier to deal with. Using a calendar can be a helpful tool.
- Having said that, they do need practice with being flexible as well. They need help to find tools they can use to deal with situations where things are new and unexpected. Giving them some practice in a safe environment can be very helpful to them. This can be as simple as trying a new food for dinner (while having sides that are favorites) or taking a new route to school.
- Many times, kids with ASD need to be told things very bluntly. It may seem mean sometimes, but they actually appreciate it. In fact, often times when I am blunt with my son (“You stink; please put on deodorant”), he thanks me for letting him know.
- They often need a “cool down” space where they can be alone and quiet. When he was young, we made sure he knew where that space could be in each classroom and anywhere we may have travelled to. As a teenager, he now can figure that out for himself or can at least ask about a quiet place when he feels he needs it.
- Social cues need to be explicitly taught. We spent a lot of time when he was young teaching how to read peoples faces, expressions, and body language. We role played. We asked “How would you feel if…” over and over again. We forced him to put himself in other people’s shoes. At times, it was frustrating for all of us! But, it has paid off. We still need to prompt him at times, but he will also start conversations with “It looks like you feel ___ right now. Is that true?”
- Oh, can they be funny! Kids on the spectrum can have a difficult time understanding humor, sarcasm, and riddles. But once they do understand it, they often times try to mimic it and it can be hilarious!
- They love repetition! Things that most of us hate to see or do again and again gives them a sense of comfort. In the past, my son would watch the same movie over and over and over again. Now he does the same with songs.
- Their memory is amazing. He loves people to quiz him about who won the Indy Car Race in a certain year or what date a movie came out in the theater. He will also remind you of something you said years ago (with the specific date and the surrounding conversation).
- They are selfish, but they don’t mean to be. They have a difficult time seeing things from another point of view.
- They don’t “look” like they have a disability, which can make it more difficult for strangers to know what to do or what to say to them.
- They have ears. Please don’t talk about them or their challenges to me while they are standing right there. If you have a question, ask them! If they are too young, then ask me while they are not around. I don’t mind answering your questions.
- Don’t apologize to me (or other parents) for what I must be going through. All parents (and kids) have challenges. This is nothing more than that. Lend an ear when I’m having a bad day, just like you would for any other parent.
- Education is getting easier for kids on the spectrum because as a society, we are learning more about how they learn and what tools they need to succeed. More autistic kids are graduating from high school and going on to college. However, jobs are still difficult for these young adults.
- Siblings of kids with autism learn to be flexible and caring. They may need some time alone time with the parents though. They need to know that they are loved just as much as their sibling and that you understand they may not get as much time or attention spent with them.
- Some people think Autism is an American disease or more prevalent in the US. However, that is not the case. Different studies show different counts of children on the spectrum based on the year it was done, how the country counts the children, and how they define the disorder.
- Myth — Kids on the spectrum do not want to be with others and cannot make connections. The fact is, many of them DO want relationships, but do not know how. My son prefers to hang out with adults vs other kids. The biggest reason for this is that adults tend to talk about what he is interested in, so they become more relatable to him.
- A meltdown is different from a temper tantrum. And autistic kids can have both! During a meltdown, a child is not choosing their behavior. Something has frustrated them to the point of not being able to control themselves any longer and many times they just do not have the words to express their feelings. A temper tantrum is usually caused by a child trying to get their way about something.
- A diagnosis of autism doesn’t mean that a child can get whatever they want or misbehave without consequences. They should be held to similar standards as other children their age. You get what you expect. It may take longer to explain the rules or to show them the consequences, but they can understand them.
- (BONUS!) Many kids on the spectrum are highly gifted in at least one area. Celebrate their gifts! For my son, it is math. He loves numbers. In fact, he can recite the first 120 digits of pi. While that may not come in super handy in everyday life, we still celebrate it because it is something he is excited about!
Did you know these interesting facts about autism?