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World Autism Awareness Day

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World Autism Awareness Day

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. Autism affects children and adults worldwide. Learn what autism is, who gets it, and what causes it.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. While we may think of autism as a children’s disorder, autism is a lifelong disorder that affects the lives of children and adults of all races and socioeconomic status all over the world.

What is autism?
Autism is not a mental illness, and it’s not caused by psychological or emotional factors. Researchers have identified autism as disorders of the development of brain functions.

The label “autism” can be confusing as it refers to a specific syndrome of abnormal development (classic autism) and to a broader range of related disorders. Impairments in three main areas signify a person has full-blown classic autism:

  • social interaction
  • communication and language use
  • limited imagination (leads to restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour and activities)

To establish a diagnosis of autism, these three behaviours must be present in an individual before three years of age.

People may exhibit only some of these traits, so researchers have found it helpful to think of autism in terms of a continuum or spectrum of autistic disorders.

Who’s most likely to develop autism?

  • In North America it’s estimated that 1 in 150 people have autism.
  • Males with autism disorder (classic autism) outnumber females with the disorder 4:1.
  • Males with Asperger’s Syndrome outnumber females with the disorder 9:1.
  • It’s likely that many adults who fall somewhere on the autism disorder spectrum haven’t been diagnosed.

What causes autism?
Genetic factors
Research shows that autism is most likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Several mutated genes have been identified in people with autism, and researchers have noted a higher incidence of autism in families.

Environmental factors
But environmental factors such as chemicals used in industrial operations, in products used at home, and in medicines and foods may contribute to the development of autism. The huge variation in symptoms among people with autism spectrum disorder suggests that genetic and environmental factors may be different for each person.

Importance of an early diagnosis
If a diagnosis is made while a child is young, it is possible to have great success treating autism disorders. But the older a child is before he or she receives a diagnosis, the chances for success decrease.

Tomorrow we’ll look at early signs of autism and treatment therapies, including some alternative therapies such as acupuncture, art and music therapies, osteopathic, and cranial sacral.

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