April is Autism Awareness Month, and the best way to celebrate is by learning more about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and contributing to the ongoing progress being made in the autistic community. A lot of commonly-known information about the topic is often misdated and many stereotypes still persist to this day.
Understanding the Spectrum
Though referred to colloquially as autism, the formal name of this condition is autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. ASD was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2013 as the official umbrella term. It merged four previously distinct variants into one diagnosis: autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome.
This categorization is an important step forward because everything that surrounds ASD — from the symptoms to treatments — exists on a spectrum. The previous method made achieving diagnosis more challenging due to the rigid classification system. Now, ASD uses a more broad approach, with symptoms generally characterized by difficulty in social settings, as well as repetitive speech, behaviors, and nonverbal communication.
It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that autism affects one in 44 children in our country today, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Children born to older parents are also at an increased likelihood for autism. Though ASD affects all socioeconomic groups, minorities are diagnosed both later in life and less frequently than their peers.
Autism Into Adulthood
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the autism community is the misconception that autism is a condition that exclusively affects children. While it is true that the majority of diagnoses occur in childhood, with observable symptoms by the age of two or three. This is because research has shown that early intervention is associated with positive outcomes later in life.
While a smaller portion of people are indeed diagnosed in adulthood, many often forget about the thousands of autistic children who grow up year after year. In fact, over the course of the next decade, approximately 707,000 to 1,116,000 autisitic teens will reach adulthood. But this is hardly a celebratory occasion, because this also marks the moment that these teens age out of school-based autism services.
Support for adults with autism is often underwhelming — either difficult to find or lacking in quality. Because of this, many autistic adults will not receive any health care at all once they are no longer eligible to see a pediatrician. More than half of young autistic adults are unemployed, and those that do have a job are often paid wages at the poverty level.
These statistics demonstrate that additional resources are needed in every stage of life to adequately support the autistic community. In fact, the Autism Society is advocating for “Autism Awareness Month” to become “Autism Acceptance Month” in an effort to foster change and inclusivity.