What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological disorder that typically appears in the first three years of life. Though every case is unique, ASD typically impacts the ability of a person to socially interact with others, and can (though not always) bring with it a variety of learning difficulties.

Like many other neurological disorders, cases of ASD vary widely in severity. Some people with ASD develop significant language and communication difficulties before the age of three. Others do not have these challenges but still experience significant problems with social skills and nonverbal communication. The scope and severity of these symptoms can change over time, with an individual experiencing leaps of progress or serious regression at different stages of his or her development.

Signs & Symptoms of Autism in Children

The following “red flags” may indicate a child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don’t delay in asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

The M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) can help you determine if a professional should evaluate your child. The simple online autism screen, available through autism speaks website, takes only a few minutes. If the answers suggest your child is at risk for autism, please consult with your child’s doctor. Likewise, if you have any other concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Speak to your doctor now about screening your child for autism.

This video from the Kennedy Krieger Institute provides an overview of how to recognize early signs of autism. Amazing Things Happen is an animated video that provides a good explanation of autism to share with young people.

Why is it called the “Autism spectrum”?

Many with ASD’s have exceptional visual and memorization skills, excel in music, technology and academics. About 46 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their unique abilities and “atypical” ways of learning. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently. About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal or have very limited verbal language proficiency but can learn to communicate using augmentative communication.

How does having a child with ASD affect families?

As mentioned above, ASD brings numerous challenges for families. Between the challenges of finding qualified professionals to help, securing coverage for treatment from reluctant insurers, and balancing the imposing daily needs of the ASD child with their other children, parenting a child with ASD is extremely difficult. But when it comes to addressing these challenges, Washington families are largely on their own. These obstacles can often put a terrific strain on marriages. Washington leads the nation in out of home placement of children with Autism and related disabilities, and the divorce rate in families of children with Autism is over 86%.

What are we doing about it?

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