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Cleveland's April National Autism Awareness Month

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In an effort to highlight “the growing need for concern and awareness about autism,” the Autism Society http://www.autism-society.org has declared April to be National Autism Awareness Month. The group has been celebrating this special month since the 1970s, and over time it has become a national movement. Cities are lighting up major buildings in blue to draw attention to this increasingly growing health issue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov an estimated one in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder. This is a ten-fold increase in prevalence over the past 40 years, says the organization Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org as well as the CDC.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are “general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development,” according to the group Autism Speaks, and these disorders “are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”

According to the group Autism Speaks, “Autism has its roots in early brain development.” They note that some children will appear to develop normally – achieving standard developmental milestones – until they’re in their second year. At this point, the group notes, they begin to lose their skills and develop autism, a pattern known as “regression.”

The group notes that some of the early warning signs include no joyful expressions by six months or later; no back-and-forth interactions using facial expression and sounds by 9 months; no babbling by a year; no words by 16 months; no clear two-word phrases by two years; and loss of speech or social skills at any age.

ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls, according to statistics collected by CDC, with the disorder affecting one in 42 boys versus one in 189 girls. Additionally, says CDC, “white children are more like to be identified as having ASD than are black or Hispanic children.”

CDC also notes that levels of intellectual ability vary widely among individuals with autism, “from severe intellectual challenges to average or above average intellectual ability.”

CDC highlights the fact that early detection and action are critical. Most children, says CDC, are diagnosed after age four, although it is sometimes possible to make the diagnosis as early as age two. CDC has a program to help parents of children with suspected ASD. They urge parents to visit their website http://www.cdc.gov/actearly.

Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, M.D., is the chief of CDC’s Developmental Disabilites Branch. She states that “the most important thing for parents to do is to act early when there is a concern about a child’s development.” She goes on to tell parents “If you have a concern about how your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, or moves, take action. Don’t wait.”

CDC notes that if you have concerns, you should talk to your child’s doctor and call your local early intervention program or school system for a free evaluation.

To find out what activities and efforts are happening in Cleveland in recognition of National Autism Awareness Month, go to Fox 8 Cleveland’s website: http://fox8.com/tag/autism-awareness/

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