Did you know that 1 in every 88 American children are diagnosed with autism? The incidence rate has increased 28% in the past three years and 78% in the past five years. And according to the Missouri Autism & Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM), 1 in 72 children in Missouri have ASD, or specifically, 1:46 boys and 1:169 girls.
The increase in incidence rates is partly due to "the way children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their local communities, although exactly how much is due to these factors is unknown," the Centers for Disease Control reported. In addition, the cost to society for autism research and treatment has more than tripled in the past five years to approximately $130 billion.
Autism is “one group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders that appear in early childhood—usually before age 3. Though symptoms vary, all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Autism is a disorder that includes a broad range of symptoms, hence giving it the title “autism spectrum disorder.” One person diagnosed with autism could be very bright and verbal, while the next could be mentally retarded and non-verbal. The most significant shared symptom, however, is difficulty with social communication, such as eye contact, conversation and taking another’s perspective.
Autism has no single, known cause. Because the disorder is so complex, there is a range of autistic disorders and no two children with autism are alike, it is believed that there may be many causes.
Some of the believed causes include:
Genetic errors: Some of these errors make a child more susceptible to the disorder, while others affect brain development or the way brain cells communicate. Yet, others may determine the severity of symptoms. Some of the genetic errors seem to be inherited, while others occur spontaneously. Researchers have found a strong genetic basis, identifying up to 20 sets of genes which may play a part in the development of autism.
Environmental factors: Researchers believe that autism is caused by both genetic and environmental factors. They are currently exploring whether viral infections and air pollutants, for example, play a role in triggering autism. Environmental factors can include a mother's illness or harmful drugs taken during pregnancy. There is a link between autism spectrum disorders and the prescription drugs thalidomide and valporic acid.
Other causes: Other factors under investigation include problems during labor and delivery and the role of the immune system.
And since each case of autism is different, there is not one treatment for people with autism spectrum. However, research shows that early behavioral interventions help to maximize each child’s potential. Early diagnosis, along with comprehensive and intensive interventions, can help to produce better outcomes for many children with autism.
Some treatment options include, but are not limited to:
- Behavioral treatment.
- Social skills interventions.
- Relationship-based therapies, such as floor time.
- Speech and language therapy, which could also address social skills.
- Occupational therapy, which could also address sensory issues.
- Physical therapy.
- Medical options, which could include medications or diets aimed at threatening the symptoms of autism.
No matter what treatment option or options are chosen, early diagnosis and intervention are keys to having a better outcome for the child. Learn more about identifying milestones in the way your child speaks, plays, and acts, by viewing the CDC's online resources.
For more information, or to receive a "First 100 Days" tool kit, check out Autism Speaks at 888-AUTISM-2.
While autism is a lifelong diagnosis, often those who receive early intervention see symptoms decrease drastically. In addition, people with autism can learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and build on their individual strengths.
UPDATE June 2012: A new study from the Boston Children's Hospital states that EEG-based testing may help reliably diagnose autism in children as early as age two, allowing for more effective therapies.
Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment
Knights of Columbus Developmental Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Medical Center
MU Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics Developmental & Behavioral Sciences