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April is Autism Awareness Month: Monarch psychologist says education and awareness are essential

CDC reveals new data on Autism Spectrum Disorder

autism awarenessLast week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the United States has increased to 1 in 68 children – or 14.7 per 1,000 eight-year-olds. This is up from 1 in 88 only two years earlier. So chances are you know someone with autism.  

During the month of April, Monarch is observing Autism Awareness Month and asking people to get involved by educating themselves and others through volunteerism.

Because the definition of autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder ASD, is so broad, it often creates misconceptions, which is why Monarch psychologist Amanda Matthews says raising awareness about autism is key. She believes education helps give people a better understanding of what a diagnosis entails.  

“Many individuals within our community—our family, friends, colleagues, and perhaps ourselves—may live with ASD,” she explained. “Someone who has ASD is not necessarily so ‘different’ than others, and this knowledge needs to be increased.”

Last May, a new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which is used by medical professionals, merged all autism disorders into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Observable symptoms for autism can be seen in children between the ages of 1 and 3 years old, and while there is no one cause of autism, or even one type of autism, scientists have found that there are a number of rare gene changes associated with ASD.

Those with ASD are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social, emotional, and communication skills, according to the CDC. They might repeat certain behaviors and not want change in their daily activities. Many people with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things.

Lucy Albert’s son was diagnosed with autism when he was 17. While his case is mild compared to others on the spectrum, she said she was relieved when he finally got the diagnosis.

“I’d seen several behavior patterns that had not previously made sense, but this diagnosis provided me with a framework for understanding the behaviors,” said Albert, who lives in Iredell County.

According to the CDC, “There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged.

Albert said her son’s diagnosis helped her see that people with mild autism are all around us in a variety of professions and are often intellectually brilliant.

“They are teachers, IT workers, physicists, doctors, engineers, etc.  Because of this, there are plenty of reasons to hope that these young people will lead productive, happy lives, thoroughly integrated within our world,” she said. “An autism diagnosis does not have to mean the end of normal interactions, regardless of their age.”

Regardless of diagnosis, Matthews stressed that each individual with autism has unique characteristics, and interacting with people who have been diagnosed with autism can happen in positive, supportive and appropriate ways.

“Education is key,” Matthews said. She encourages people to read information provided by science and advocacy groups on the topic, as well as communicate with professionals who work within the specialty field, and most importantly interact with, support, and communicate with individuals who have ASD.

“If individuals and their communities are able to take a proactive stance regarding increasing education and raising awareness about ASD, the potential for progress is limitless,” Matthews said.  

For more information on autism, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html

The Arc also provides resources about autism and Autism Awareness Month: http://www.thearc.org.

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