Whether you are new to the world of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or have a long-standing familiarity, the rising prevalence of ASD means you could meet more children with autism this year than you did last year. As we begin April's Autism Awareness Month, here are some ways we can all be more aware and understanding of the community of autism, and at the same time celebrate every potential reached.
INCREASING DIAGNOSES GIVES REASON FOR INCREASED AWARENESS
The latest estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined in late 2018 there was a 15-percent increase in prevalence among young children diagnosed with ASD, bringing the national average to 1 in 59 children, from 1 in 68 just two years prior. This translates into about 65,000 to 70,000 children this year having the diagnosis. Yet so many individuals may go about their day not knowing who among them has this disorder, which can be both an obstacle and a gift.
"Awareness is a key factor when it comes to the public and an understanding of what autism is and the wonderful thing it is and the challenges, too, that it might bring," said Board Certified Behavior Analyst Matthew Brodhead, Ph.D., BCBA-D., Michigan State University.
It may be hard to pinpoint a child with autism by the symptoms presented and that is often because the severity and variety of symptoms range for each person with the diagnosis from low- to high-functioning autism—that's one reason it's called a spectrum disorder. This makes it all that much more important to be aware of what autism is.
When a child with autism is diagnosed, often doctors or BCBAs who assess a child's strengths and weaknesses will recommend 25 or more hours per week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy with a Behavior Technician and/or a BCBA. ABA therapy can help all those diagnosed with autism to be more functioning, productive members of society—learning vital communication and interpersonal skills as they grow, live, and work in society.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO INTERACT
Patience is key to understanding the different reactions someone with autism may have to everyday occurrences. Children with autism in ABA therapy are learning to match their reactions to the actions they encounter—a skill set from which everyone can benefit.
Often a child with autism may initially misunderstand certain actions or language when heard. As a result, their emotions and comments in reaction may be off the typical mark because they've misread the intent of the message. As a result, people with autism may over or under-react relative to neurotypical people in the same situation. What someone finds funny or understands to be a joke, can be seen by a person with autism as ridicule or mockery. Individuals with autism "call it as they see it" without the filters commonly applied to protect someone's feelings about what may typically be known as a sensitive subject.
There is an upside to this candidness typical to people on the spectrum—they may have a very hard time lying, fibbing, or even exaggerating the truth. Also, people with autism can be very deliberate in their word choices. While it may appear they are not responsive or not paying attention to conversations, the opposite is likely true. Instead, they are more likely to absorb the entire conversation with all their senses, which is in part why it may take them longer to communicate their reaction.
Children with autism undergoing ABA therapy also are learning to interpret facial expressions as well as nuanced language appropriately. For example, a frown can indicate sadness, confusion, anger, or other things in a given situation. A person with autism may have a harder time distinguishing the emotion behind the frown because his or her reading of the situation may be different from what's considered commonplace.
Most children learn to interpret others' gestures, body language, nonverbal language, etc. from a young age by mimicking what they've observed to a point of understanding. But imagine if your experiences have always been seen and interpreted through a different lens, such as with autism, then you can't instinctively have the common reactions others do, even if it is what you've grown up seeing.
POINT OUT THEIR ABILITIES, NOT THE DISABILITY
Many strengths come with autism, not just the deficits associated with behavior or communication. Some gifted skills and talents are less known but can be common among those with autism, like an exceptional memory, complex thinking, and generous compassion. Because people with autism come from a very realistic, literal view of the world, they don't often stretch the truth or even know how to manipulate language or interactions with people. This can be a refreshing take on life and should be celebrated. This take is becoming more prevalent with the movement of speaking truth to power.
Often people on the spectrum attend to the senses around them with more honesty as well. That means a person with autism is likely more mindful of the positive sights and sounds that others may miss from among their everyday encounters. Stopping to smell the roses, perhaps not literally, is a way of life for a person with autism.
There are many ways to highlight the challenges and wonders of people with autism and promote the positive outcomes of the ABA therapy they need by getting involved with the autism community. This month is an especially good month to start your involvement with the community as April is Autism Awareness Month.
If you believe your child may have autism, Centria Autism is there to provide guidance and support every step of the way. Please contact our team of specialists at 855-77-AUTISM or request more information here.