The month of April is National Autism Awareness Month. As suggested by the name, the purpose of this month is to educate and inform others about autism. This includes defining the disease, learning what it means to have autism, learning the difficulties that someone with autism faces, and of course learning how to accept and appreciate those living with autism. Considering that over 3.5 million Americans are currently living with autism, it is important that we are educated on this topic.
Considering that over 3.5 million Americans are currently living with autism, it is important that we are educated on this topic.
Autism spectrum disorder, which is more commonly known as autism, is a disease which is usually diagnosed at a very early age. It affects an individual’s speech, behavior, and social skills, however, some individuals may have unique strengths. The disease affects people in different ways, in varying degrees – hence the term “spectrum disorder” – and is associated with delayed learning, poor motor skills, and a lack of reasoning. Similarly, the severity of these effects may differ from person to person. Autism is not a curable disease, but it is treatable. Studies show that it is better to treat it at an earlier stage, but in order to do so, doctors need to be able to diagnose patients at the early onset of their symptoms.
One of many ways to effectively diagnose autism is to observe a person’s behavior. As a result of this, autism is usually difficult to diagnose at a very young age, but by the age of two, a physician should be able to recognize common symptoms of the disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosis is a two-step process. The first step is known as developmental screening. Essentially, this involves closely observing the behavior of a child over a specified period of time and if the doctor notices that the child has a delay in speech development and behavioral skill acquisition, then he or she will move onto the second step of diagnosis. This step is a much more in-depth screening that requires interviews with the parents, extensive medical testing such as genetic testing, and a proper assessment by specialists. By the end of this two part process, a fairly accurate diagnosis can be made. If a patient is diagnosed with autism, the next step is to start treatment.
Due to the variance of the severity of the disease on an individual level, there is no one treatment for autism; in fact, many treatments are personalized. Medication can be prescribed to autistic patients to alleviate their symptoms, which can include difficulty focusing or having too much energy. Aside from medication, another treatment alternative is seeking early intervention services. This method of treatment is very effective at a young age because it involves developing and honing speech, communication, and behavioral skills over time. There are many other types of therapies ranging from occupational therapy, physical therapy, sensory integration, among many others which also focus on developing a specific set of skills. In light of this, different therapies will be tailored for patients depending on what is needed. It is important to note that while the emphasis on treating autism at a young age is helpful, it has also ingrained in people’s mind this negative mindset that autism only affects young people. This is misleading.
Many adolescents and adults also live with autism, but they are often overlooked because so much attention is paid to children. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on autistic patients of all ages. Bearing this in mind and knowing what it means to live with autism holistically without reducing autistic patients to one catch-all category will allow society to become more accepting and accommodating.