Autism Awareness Month: What You Should Know

By: Amanda Belo

Chances are you’ve heard of autism, but how much do you really know? In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’re here to give you the basics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

ASD is defined by the advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, as “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences…” The word spectrum is used because the severity of symptoms ranges from person to person.1

Who does autism affect?

Autism can affect anyone, no matter your ethnicity, race or gender. Signs of the developmental disorder appear initially at a very young age and continues through adulthood. Autism affects 1 in 68 children, however, it affects more boys than girls.1 There is not an exact cause for autism, but some researchers believe risk factors may include family history, certain genetic conditions and low birth weight.2

What are the signs of autism?

Autism affects communication and social interaction. According to the American Psychiatric Association, some defining characteristics of an autistic person includes having difficulty with communication and interaction with other people; Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; and, symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life. There are many specific behaviors associated with these elements. Here are some examples from the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Making little or inconsistent eye contact
  • Failing or being slow to respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention
  • Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation
  • Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
  • Repeating certain behaviors or having unusual behaviors. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behavior called echolalia
  • Getting upset by slight changes in a routine
  • Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input, such as light, noise, clothing, or temperature

Nutrition and Autism

Mealtime does not come easy for those with autism and their caregivers. The challenge can be behavioral or attitudinal toward food. Some researchers have found these opposing forces to be associated with nutritional deficiencies as related to autism. In a 2013 study, researchers found low intakes of calcium and protein in autistic children, both key to healthy physical growth and development. They also found that autistic children are more likely to have mealtime roadblocks than their peers, such as tantrums, extreme food selectivity and ritualistic eating behaviors.3

Other food-related concerns include not eating enough food due to not being able to focus on the task of eating for an extended period of time, as well as constipation from limited food choices and side effects from medicines. 4

Other Facts and Statistics

  • People with autism also carry many strengths that include: Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time; being strong visual and auditory learners; and, excelling in math, science, music, or art2
  • Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S.1
  • Boys are almost five times more likely to than girls to experience autism.1
  • Autism can be diagnosed at any age.1
  • Around one-third of people with autism remain nonverbal.1
  • Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.1

 

Resources:

  1. https://www.autismspeaks.org
  2. nimh.nih.gov
  3. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
  4. https://www.eatright.org