Autism (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects 1 in 150 children in Canada and 1 in 132 in NL (in the US, it is 1 in 88 children). 4 to 5 times more boys are affected than girls. It is not a mental disorder, nor a form of mental retardation, nor a guarantee of intellectual capacity (which may or may not be affected). Nor is it a childhood disorder - it is not outgrown; kids with ASD become adults with ASD.
As with many neurological disorders, one can not identify an autistic person by their outward appearance - it affects their behaviour and ability to communicate, and there is a wide spectrum of how it affects one individual to the next. A person may insist on sameness & be resistance to change, have difficulty in expressing their needs and interacting with others, may repeat words and phrases, be unresponsive to verbal sues or to teaching, may be either extremely physically inactive or over-active or exhibit any combination of these and other autistic traits. Diagnosis results from the presence of the three primary deficits of autism (impairments in socialization, communication, presence of stereotypical and repetitive behaviours) as assessed by a medical specialist.
Most forms of autism are diagnosed early in childhood, by the age of 3. One form, Asperger's Syndrome, is often not apparent until later in childhood and may be diagnosed at any age. While persons with Asperger's exhibit the three primary deficits of autism, they have two characteristics that make them stand out from their autistic peers: first of all, their language development is normal, and may even be more advanced than "normal" and secondly, they have average or above average IQ scores. Asperger's is the fastest growing diagnosis in Newfoundland Labrador.
The causes of the Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Aspergers' Syndrome are still unknown - it is a puzzle (hence the awareness ribbon below). There are many conferences and research projects worldwide to investigate this and to determine how to best help those affected by the disorder. For more information, visit one of these sites:
- Autism Awareness
- Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
- Autism Society South Central Chapter (informative brochure here)
- Autism Speaks
Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, we are all asked to help shine a light on Autism. Iconic landmarks around the world will Light It Up Blue to show their support. Join them :-)