Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of life. The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and it has a tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies.
Throughout its history, the United Nations family has promoted the rights and well-being of the disabled, including children with developmental disabilities. In 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force, reaffirming the fundamental principle of universal human rights for all.
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day (A/RES/62/139) to highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder so they can lead full and meaningful lives.
When parents or support providers become concerned that their child is not following a typical developmental course, they turn to experts, including psychologists, educators and medical professionals, for a diagnosis.
At first glance, some persons with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, a sensory integration disorder, or problems with hearing or vision. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism. However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate diagnosis and early identification can provide the basis for building an appropriate and effective educational and treatment program. There are also other medical conditions or syndromes that can present symptoms that are confusingly similar to autism’s. This is known as differential diagnosis.
The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorder may or may not be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part of a well-baby/well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your baby’s progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:
• Does not babble or coo by 12 months
• Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months
• Does not say single words by 16 months
• Does not say two-word phrases on his or her own by 24 months
• Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age
Any of these five “red flags” does not mean your child has autism. But because the symptoms of the disorder vary so much, a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team. This team may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant or other professionals knowledgeable about autism.
There is no known single cause for autism, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism versus in neurotypical children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems.
• 1 percent of the population of children in the U.S. ages 3-17 have an autism spectrum disorder.
• Prevalence is estimated at 1 in 68 births. Recent statistics indicate the rate is even higher, especially for boys.
• 1 to 1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.
• Fastest-growing developmental disability; 1,148% growth rate.
• 10 – 17 % annual growth.
• $60 billion annual cost.
• 60% of costs are in adult services.
• Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention.
• In 10 years, the annual cost will be $200-400 billion.
• The cost of autism over the lifespan is 3.2 million dollars per person.
• Only 56% of students with autism finish high school.
• The average per-pupil expenditure for educating a child with autism was estimated by SEEP to be over $18,000 in the 1999-2000 school year. This estimate was nearly three times the expenditure for a typical regular education student who did not receive special education services.
• The unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at 14%, compared with 9% for people without a disability. Additionally, during the same period, only 21% of all adults with disabilities participated in the labor force as compared with 69% of the non-disabled population.
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