Defining Autism Spectrum Disorder

The most commonly used definition of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is simple: it is a neurological and developmental disability that is caused by differences in the brain and brain development. ASD affects the way people interact with other people, learn, behave, and communicate. It is called a “spectrum disorder” because there is a wide range of variations from one person to the next when it comes to the severity of presentation  , differing from person to person.

So how common is autism in the U.S? It is quite common. In fact, according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, in 2018, 1 in 44 children were found to be on the autism spectrum, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic group.

Scientists believe that there is no single cause of ASD, instead there are multiple factors that work together to alter the most common aspects of development. The primary cause is still unknown, but risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing autism are:

● Having parents who are older

● Having a low birth weight

● Having a sibling with autism

● Experiencing complications at birth

● Certain genetic conditions like Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and Down syndrome

● ASD is four times more common in boys than in girls

how common is autism

What are the Symptoms of Autism?

People with autism spectrum disorder often have symptoms like:

● Difficulty communicating with other people and difficulty understanding another person’s point of view

● Being unable to predict or understand the actions of others

● Making inconsistent or no eye contact with others, or appearing not to be listening

● Resisting hugs and cuddling, and preferring to be alone and retreat into their own world

● Not speaking, with around 40% of children with autism being completely nonvocal

● Difficulty with interpersonal interactions, with facial movements, gestures and intonations that do not match what is being said, or speaking in an unusual tone of voice (commonly sounding singsong or robotic in nature)

● Not responding to their name or being slow to respond when they are spoken to

● Restricted interests or very intense interests in specific topics, speaking at length about a topic without noticing that others do not share the same interest

● Difficulty adjusting their behavior to social situations

● Repetitive behaviors like repeating words or phrases (echolalia)

● An affected ability to function in areas of life including work and school

● Having a hard time making friends

● Displaying self-injurious behaviors like head banging or scratching

● Being more sensitive to sensory input than other people (lights, sounds, temperature, clothing, etc.)

● Having a very good memory for facts, and being able to remember things in detail, or doing exceedingly rare in subjects like art, math, music, and science, but having difficulty applying their knowledge and skills to their life and in social situations

how common is autism

Autism: A More Common Diagnosis

Recent eye grabbing headlines have proclaimed that we are experiencing an “autism epidemic” in our modern society, which is untrue. What is happening is that autism diagnoses are becoming more common.

Expressions of autism often show up within the first two years of a person’s life, although many people are also diagnosed later. Children are screened by their doctors during general childhood checkups, and if signs of ASD are detected, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, neurologists, developmental pediatricians, child psychologists, and other experts will assist in further testing and diagnosis.

Behavior and development are assessed so that treatment plans and services can be provided as early as possible for a better overall quality of life. Testing includes observation and assessment of factors like language and cognitive abilities, behavior, and assessments of age-appropriate skills.

Treatment for children with ASD often includes:

● Applied Behavior Analysis therapy to decrease unwanted behaviors and incorporate skill acquisition

● Social skills training and practice to improve navigation of common social situations

● Speech and language therapy to improve understanding, communication, and expression of ideas

● Occupational therapy to help build life skills and improve writing skills

● Parent training to help parents learn strategies in dealing with difficult situations and problematic behaviors

● Special education services to help children achieve their full potential using adaptive teaching methods and special classes

● Treatment of co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc. through therapy and sometimes using medication

How common is autism diagnosis for older children or adults? In older children and teens, the diagnosis becomes more difficult, as some symptoms can overlap with symptoms of other mental health disorders. Through proper screening techniques, speaking to caregivers, and observations, diagnoses in older children and even adults is possible, and can help people to understand issues they’ve had in the past, while providing access to necessary support in the present.

Our therapists at The Cardinal Center can help define your autistic child's tantrums

6 Factors Behind the Growing Prevalence of Autism

As we see it becoming more common to receive an autism diagnosis, speculation as to why this is the case often incorrectly label it as “overdiagnosis”. The truth is more along the lines that we are now better able to diagnose people who are on the spectrum, and more doctors are better trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of autism than ever before.

Some of the other factors that are said to be behind the growing prevalence of autism in the United States and the world include:

  1. We now include conditions that used to be considered separate diagnoses, including Asperger’s syndrome, intellectual disabilities, unspecified developmental disorders, and childhood disintegrative disorder

  2. There is a general societal trend of people waiting to have children until they are older, which slightly increases the chances of having a child with autism

  3. Parent groups and governmental associations have been fighting for better treatment of children with disabilities for decades, and patient advocacy over the years has slowly increased research funding, which in turn, helped refine diagnosis parameters

  4. The definition of autism has widened, encompassing milder cases instead of focusing on those with the most severe symptoms

  5. Rising awareness of autism (and the end of institutionalizing those with different abilities in the 1980s) has raised the chances of parents personally knowing a person with autism, making them more likely to seek diagnosis for their own child than those with no knowledge about ASD

  6. The recognition that early treatment for autism can make a big difference in children’s lives has led to teachers, doctors, and other adults in child-related careers being better educated on the symptoms of a child with ASD
how common is autism

The Cardinal Center for Behavior Analysis Can Help Kids with Autism Thrive

At the Cardinal Center, kids with autism are provided with all the resources, therapy, and support they need to gain necessary life and social skills. We help kids of all ages, from two to eighteen, in dealing with difficult emotional, scholastic, and social struggles, providing help and training to parents and caregivers. Our SOAR program provides APA therapy in a group setting, working on foundational scholastic, occupational, and academic readiness. We also offer a social skill group for teenagers.

Our team of professional applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists operate within the company core values of passion, continued improvement and effort, high standards of professionalism, and ethical, empathetic service. We pride ourselves in thinking outside of the box and providing individualized care and programming to each client.

We do not have a waitlist, so you can get help today. If you are new to ABA therapy and want to know more about our services, please call us at 919-642-4789 to learn more about our company and how we can help you and your family achieve a healthier and happier quality of life.

how common is autism


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