Is Dustin Hoffman's RAINMAN character the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word autism? Is it the only thing? If so, you are not alone. Hollywood's version of autism is oftentimes the only definition of this disorder the general public knows. In an effort to promote awareness, here is a definition in layman's terms: You can't necessarily tell on the outside that someone is autistic - they look just like people who aren't autistic, but they suffer from a brain disorder that impairs their speech and gestures and the way they respond socially. Individuals with autism tend to also exhibit some quirky mannerisms. Because autism is a "spectrum disorder", there is a wide variety in the severity of the symptoms they show. Currently there is no cure for autism, but thanks to intensive research, new treatments look increasingly promising.

For a kid-friendly explanation of autism, click here:
KidsHealth.org

"We are in the midst of an autism epidemic in this country."
       --Portia Iversen, co-founder of Cure Autism Now, New York Times, 12-31-2002.

Autism, or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), is alarmingly more prevalent today than just 10 years ago, affecting as many as 1 per 166 individuals (according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, 2001). That translates to more than 30,000 individuals in Cook county alone. Typically detected in early childhood, a new diagnosis is especially devastating for families because, in spite of its numbers, the disorder is so misunderstood. Even to researchers, autism continues to be a mystery. Because autism itself and its causes are so puzzling, the international symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. In order to begin to solve the autism puzzle, public awareness of the disorder is crucial.

    Incidence
    Autism, or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), is alarmingly more prevalent today than just 10 years ago.
    Autism now occurs in at least 1 in every 250 births vs. estimates of 1 in every 10,000 in 1983.
    Autism is 4 times more prevalent in boys than girls.
    Autism is increasing at a faster rate than any other disability or disease.
    Autism is the third most common developmental disability following mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
    Autism is more common than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or childhood cancer.
    Autism knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence.

So what exactly is autism?
Most people do not know that autism is a lifelong brain disorder which primarily affects an individual's communication, socialization, and language. The Autism Society of America (ASA) defines autism as "a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills". According to ASA, autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain and is four times more prevalent in boys than girls. Autism knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism's occurrence.

    Causes
    There is no undisputed known cause of autism.
    Causes that have been identified are various, preliminary and in need of additional research.
    Most believe autism to have multiple possible causes.

What are the symptoms of autism?
Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. While understanding of autism has grown tremendously since it was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943, most of the public, including many professionals in the medical, educational, and vocational fields, are still unaware of how autism affects people and how they can effectively work with individuals with autism. Contrary to popular understanding, many children and adults with autism may make eye contact, show affection, smile and laugh, and demonstrate a variety of other emotions, although in varying degrees. Autism is a spectrum disorder with the symptoms and characteristics presenting themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Children do not "outgrow" autism but symptoms may lessen as the child develops and receives treatment.

    Symptoms
    Autism is a lifelong brain disorder.
    Autism impairs speech, gestures and social responses.
    Autism is a "spectrum disorder" meaning there is a wide variety in the range and severity of the symptoms shown by individuals with autism.
    About half of the individuals diagnosed with autism are mute. Those who do acquire speech often parrot the same phrases regardless of the situation or use single words.
    Symptoms of autism typically appear during the first three years of life.
    Some autistic characteristics may include:

      •Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
      •Limited interests and imagination
      •Difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words
      •Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
      •Laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
      •Prefers to be alone; aloof manner
      •Tantrums
      •Difficulty in mixing with others
      •May not want to cuddle or be cuddled
      •Little or no eye contact
      •Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
      •Sustained odd play
      •Spins objects
      •Inappropriate attachments to objects
      •Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
      •No real fears of danger
      •Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
      •Uneven gross/fine motor skills
      •Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range
      •Sensory integration issues

Treatments
Currently there is no cure for autism, but thanks to intensive research, new treatments look increasingly promising.
Children do not "outgrow" autism but symptoms may lessen as the child develops and receives treatment.
Early intervention and intensive therapy have both shown considerable improvement in language ability and I.Q. as well as a decrease in the amount of future support services a child may need.

Research
Autism is a national crisis affecting between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Americans and costing the nation over $13 billion a year. Yet, it receives less than 15% of the federal funding of less common childhood diseases.
The $25 per-person per-year allocated to autism is in stark contrast to the national funding that is allocated to other common diseases such as Alzheimer's ($54 per person), M.S. ($158 per person) and AIDS ($1,069) per person.

Awareness
Public awareness is minimal. Many who have heard of autism have misconceptions about the disorder.
April is National Autism Awareness Month.
The international symbol for autism is a puzzle piece, signifying the mystery of this disorder.

Home About Us Workshops •  About Autism Resources Boards  

I-CARE • 15028 Cicero Ave - Suite K • Oak Forest, IL 60452 • 708.798.0923 • mail@icareinfo.org
© 2003-2005 I-CARE - Illinois Curing Autism through Research and Education. All rights reserved.