Autism...it's not what you think

By Melissa Stagnaro

The inaugural World Autism Awareness Day was yesterday, April 2. The day, which was marked by autism related events & fundraisers here and around the globe, kicked off Autism Awareness Month here in the US.

How aware are YOU of this issue, which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers an “urgent public health concern”?

According to figures published by the CDC in 2007, One in every 150 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism. That is more than are diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, pediatric AIDS and childhood cancer combined. The rate for boys is even higher as they are four times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with autism.



The prevalence of autism has increased exponentially over the last two decades. The number of school aged children between the ages of six and 17 classified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in public special education programs increased from 22,664 in 1994 to 211,610 in 2006. As startling as these numbers are, they do not include children classified as autistic who are enrolled in private schools nor higher-functioning students who are mainstreamed in public schools.

Perhaps scarier than the sheer number of children being diagnosed is the fact that there is no known cause, no cure, no means of prevention and no single, fully-effective treatment.

What is Autism?

What most people know about autism could fit on the head of a pin. (Don’t be offended. I consider myself in this generalization.) We hear autism and think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. Only the most extreme case scenarios are ever depicted on TV and in film. The reality is much different.

Autism Speaks is an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, funding research, and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. They are a driving force behind the awareness movement and their website (www.autismspeaks.com) provides a wealth of information. They define autism as “a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges.”


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