Autism is a developmental disability, sometimes described as a complex neurobiological disorder, that has lifelong effects. It is estimated today that in America 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov). In Arizona, the rates are higher at 1 in 63. That translates to over 27,000 children under age 18, including 17,000 in Maricopa County alone. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and is about four times more likely to occur in boys than girls.
Autism is described as a spectrum disorder because it affects each person differently and results in a very broad range of outcomes. For example, some individuals are nonverbal while others can sustain a conversation. Many children participate in a special education classroom, while others are mainstreamed with typically developing peers. Some adults can live independently, maintain a job and have a family, while others will need supported living accommodations for the rest of their lives. The future of a child with autism is not known at the time of diagnosis, but the quality of treatment and support the child and family receive throughout the years undoubtedly has an enormous impact.
The diagnosis is based on significant impairments in social interaction and communication as well as unusual behaviors and interests. Abilities can vary from gifted to severely challenged. Some common observable traits include avoiding eye contact, repetitive actions or routines, difficulty accepting change or transitioning, not understanding how to play or socially interact with others, challenging behaviors involving sudden mood swings or aggression, hypersensitivity to sounds or textures, problems with eating and sleeping, and difficulty understanding other peoples’ thoughts and feelings.
There is no known cause and no known cure for autism. However, there are treatments and services that are known to help, and in some cases even promote recovery from autism. Every child and person affected by autism has the potential to develop functional skills and positive behaviors to overcome barriers, participate in society, and sustain a high quality of life. It is our mission to help them get there.
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