Autism Awareness Month

April 2, 2012

April is Autism Awareness Month, and today is World Autism Awareness Day, and it’s actually worth giving your attention, even if you don’t know anyone diagnosed with autism. According to a new study, the prevalence of autism has been readjusted from 1 in 110 to 1 in 88.

That means more than 1% of children have autism, and that’s not even factoring in communities where it might be going undiagnosed due to cultural or financial reasons.

Everyone is speculating about why autism has seen such a jump in prevalence: are we thinking about it more, and thus diagnosing it more?; is there an environmental factor triggering autism?; or have we broadened the definition too far?

One of the main criticisms of those trying to “cure” autism or who would call it an “epidemic” is that when you look at the other side of the coin, the whole thing starts to lose ground. For some children to have autism or similar problems, there have to be “normal” children to compare them to, or people who are referred to as having “neurotypical” brains.

But upon close examination, studies that look to pinpoint and define neurotypical are actually finding the opposite: humans think in a number of different ways, but most of us unify socially and culturally, hiding our strangeness from each other.

People talk about the increase in awareness leading to more diagnoses of autism, but what about a change in parenting style in recent decades? Expectations of children have changed—a generation of helicopter parents has lead to parents who are more in touch with children’s every up, down, and difference from their peers.

In some ways this is good, children with severe symptoms of autism, who may have been placed outside of society a few decades ago, are understood better and thus more likely to get help from parents and teachers. On the other hand people with mild symptoms are receiving a label that has, for society at large, mostly negative connotations.

For every parent struggling with an autistic child, there seems to be a grown autistic person happy with who they are, and content not to be “cured” (a big factor here being that “autism” is now an umbrella word for many different ways of thinking). While autistic people face challenges learning to behave the way society expects them to—first in school, then in their careers and social lives—there is a general resentment to the idea that they are in some way broken and in need of fixing, understanding is in many ways more important.

It’s worth noting that many children diagnosed at a young age with autism, even severe symptoms of autism, will grow out of it. About 10% have the symptoms clear up without much intervention, while many others benefit from therapy within a few years.

If, during Autism Awareness Month, you feel like getting involved, be sure to check out organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, rather than the more media-spotlighted Autism Speaks, which has made some big mistakes along the way and which uses its funds questionably.
Share your thoughts on the new autism statistic (1 in 88 kids) below:

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