April focuses on autism awareness

BY MATTHEW BROWN

April means increased work for many Autism research centers and organizations who dedicate this month to spreading autism awareness to the public.

Autism Awareness Month was founded by the Autism Society and was federally recognized since the 1970s. It’s used as a time to promote awareness and to provide vital information about autism to the public in order to improve the quality of life of those affected.

It’s also used to raise money through sponsors in order to improve the quality of treatment and to equip parents with the best information and a solid plan on how to care for a child with autism. Autism Awareness month has since evolved from its beginning in the 70s to a highly recognized event with major sponsors such as Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and many others who donate a portion of their earnings to Autism research.

“I think Autism Awareness Month is vitally important,” said Jerry Jo Gilham, a professor of social work as well as an eight-year clinical consultant to the “Help Me Grow” program in Jefferson County. “So many children are diagnosed with Autism. If we make the public aware, it gives them a way to identify it. Diagnosis is the key,”

Autism, formally called Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism was formally introduced in 1943 by Leo Kanner, a Jewish-American psychiatrist. The disorder affects people of all age groups in different ways and varies in severity.

Signs of autism can be seen as early as infancy. A baby with Autism may be unresponsive to social engagement or fixated on one particular item for extended periods of time. Although the most prominent feature of autism is impaired social interaction, there are many other characteristics such as impaired linguistic or cognitive development, little or no eye contact, indifference or lack of interest in others and even self-abusive behavior.

Some autistic people desire to interact with others but lack the necessary skills to do so. It is difficult for autistic people to relate with what other people are thinking or feeling and can’t understand social characteristics such as facial expressions or tone of voice.

Cases of autism are rapidly growing in the United States. Research conducted at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012 shows that the prevalence of autism has increased to 1 in 88 births with almost 1 in 54 affecting boys and 1 in 252 affecting girls, which is a 23 percent increase from their last report in 2009.

The cause of Autism is still uncertain among scientists but it’s likely that genetics play a part. Some studies suggest that people with autism have an irregular level of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain which could be the result of a disruption in brain development during the fetal stage.

“It’s really important to make the public aware of this,” said senior Michael Mcgurn. “Autism is a disorder that remains a mystery in the medical field. As an employee at a developmentally disabled facility, I encounter many autistic clients and can say that no two cases are the same. It is a mental condition that must be on the forefront of medical research,”

According to the Autism Society, the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism can cost $3.5 million to $5 million and the United States spends $90 billion for autism.

For additional information on autism or how to participate in Autism Awareness Month, contact the Autism Society or visit their website at www. Autism-Society.org

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