Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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Creating Inclusion Through Acceptance

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We celebrate World and National Autism Awareness Month every April. World Autism Awareness Day is recognized on April 2. Started by the Autism Society in 1970, Autism Awareness Month aims to bring about understanding, inclusion, and empowerment of people on the autism spectrum. Autism acceptance encourages a world where every individual in the autism community has access to the support and resources needed when they need them.

“Autism Awareness Month is all about creating awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of individuals with this diagnosis. Autistic cases in the U.S. rose from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 children in 2020,” said Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer. “Great strides have been made over the years to include individuals with autism in all walks of life.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that can cause challenges with social, communication, and behavioral skills. In most cases, there are no physical traits related to a person with ASD, but the way a person with ASD communicates, interacts, behaves, and learns may vary compared to most others. The cognitive abilities of a person with ASD can range from gifted to severely intellectually disabled. While some individuals with ASD require a large amount of assistance, others can and do live a relatively normal life.

Individuals with ASD are often born with the disorder. Signs of ASD begin before 3 years of age and usually last throughout their life. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of ASD can show as early as the first 12 months of life and sometimes as late as 24 months or more. Some children with ASD may develop new skills early but stop gaining new skills or lose already learned skills around 18 to 24 months of age. ASD is classified as one umbrella term with three different stages: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger syndrome.

According to Autism Speaks, the following signs could be an indicator that your child may be at risk for ASD.

By 6 months

  • Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful, and engaging expressions
  • Limited or no eye contact

By 9 months

  • Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions

By 12 months

  • Little or no babbling
  • Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving
  • Little or no response to name

By 16 months

  • Very few or no words

By 24 months

  • Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)

At any age

  • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling, or social skills
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Persistent preference for solitude
  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
  • Delayed language development
  • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
  • Restricted interests
  • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
  • Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, and/or colors

The causes of ASD are still unknown; however, researchers have learned there is likely a combination of genetic and nongenetic, or environmental, influences that play a factor. According to the CDC, ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Factors like family income, lifestyle, or educational level do not affect a child’s risk of autism. ASD is found to be four times more common among boys than girls.

There is no cure for ASD, but research shows child development can improve using early intervention treatment services. These services can help with a child’s ability to learn crucial skills from birth to 3 years of age. Similar symptoms that appear in children on the spectrum may also exist in adults. Although treatment is usually recommended for children, adults with ASD may also find specific types of treatments and services to be helpful. It is important to recognize that treatment does not aim to cure ASD, instead, it helps individuals address and manage issues such as anxiety, depression, or rigid thinking. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms related to ASD, consult a doctor or mental health professional for a formal autism evaluation. To learn more about National Autism Awareness Month and treatment options for autism symptoms in children and adults, visit the Autism Society’s Acceptance Page

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