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2020 Mar

Understanding Autism

If you suspect your child is autistic, here’s some insight into signs and symptoms.

Autism is a word everyone wants to understand. The word can evoke many feelings for those dealing with the diagnosis. Some are frightened, others anxious, and many, confused. We all agree that we need to know and learn more about this disorder, which is becoming more and more prevalent.

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 that one in 59 births in the United States resulted in an individual with autism. This is a shocking statistic for parents, schools, communities, and society to wrestle with while trying to understand autism.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not a single disorder but extends across the spectrum—with individuals having a wide range of conditions, characteristics, and behaviors. Symptoms differ, frequency of symptoms differ, and intensity of the characteristics and behaviors vary.

Some behaviors appear for individuals and some do not, some are constant while others are intermittent, and some impact the individual in all areas of daily life and some do not. The variability of these characteristics and behaviors add to the fear, anxiety, and confusion surrounding autism.

Autism is more common in boys than girls. Boys are diagnosed with autism about four times more than girls, according to the website Autism Speaks. Interestingly, the unique way autism signs and symptoms present themselves in girls can lead to fewer girls being diagnosed. Girls may go unnoticed since they are often quieter and more content to play alone.

Being social is one of the hardest tasks for individuals with autism; however, girls are more socially active, in general, so this sign can be harder to identify. Boys, on the other hand, tend to have more overt autism-like behaviors which are easier to notice—and therefore are diagnosed—such as repetitive behaviors and difficulty with impulse control.

Even though no two individuals diagnosed with autism present identical signs and symptoms, three areas are commonly impacted for individuals with autism: social/behavior, communication, and sensory. Some of the symptoms of individuals with autism within the social/behavior area are feeling anxiety over unfamiliar situations, demonstrating repetitive behaviors, avoiding eye contact, and preferring to participate in individual activities as opposed to group situations.

With communication, symptoms of individuals with autism include difficulty in interacting in back-and-forth of conversations, reading and interpreting emotional cues, and communicating his/her feelings. Sensory issues for individuals with autism are having either overactive or underactive sensory systems (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch).

Having autism means individuals process information and their environments differently. Sometimes the signs and symptoms of autism are apparent in babies as they fail to reach their developmental milestones, such as eye contact, cooing, and rolling over; other times, the signs and symptoms become more noticeable as they grow older.

The Mayo Clinic defines autism as a group of serious developmental problems that typically manifest prior to a child’s third birthday. If you think your child is exhibiting signs and symptoms of autism, visit your child’s pediatrician and contact your child’s school with your concerns. Seek out local autism support or resource centers. Check your insurance coverage and contact the Department of Development Disabilities.

There is no known cause or cure for autism. Having autism does not mean you have an illness or disease. Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability. Research indicates that early intervention programs can improve outcomes for many individuals with autism. Look early for the signs and symptoms of autism in your child. Besides all of the roles of parenting in raising a child, add being your child’s advocate.

Drs. Morghan Bosch and Karen Bosch recently wrote a children’s book about autism, Being Charley: Embracing Differences. Charley is a Canada goose that has autism. The picture book is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.

Morghan E. Bosch, EdD, is an assistant professor of special education at Barton College, North Carolina. She earned her doctorate in special education with emphasis in autism at Regent University.

Karen A. Bosch, PhD, is a professor emeritus of education at Virginia Wesleyan University. Dr. Dr. K. Bosch has spent over 30 years in the field of education as a professor in higher education, school administrator, and public school teacher.

For more information, please visit: www.autismspeaks.org.

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