National Autism Awareness Month

Posted On April 18, 2018
Categories Uncategorized

Autism awareness month is observed in April every year to increase awareness about those living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The campaign was initiated as a week-long affair in 1972 by the Autism Society, and its observance was extended to the whole month of April in 1984. Every year, supporters and allies of the campaign organize events and activities throughout the month in an effort to increase awareness about and acceptance for individuals on the Autism Spectrum.

Autism is a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences (Autism Speaks, 2018a). Autism is considered a spectrum condition because it affects individuals in varying degrees. The signs of autism tend to appear during early childhood, typically between the ages of two and three years (Autism Speaks, 2018; Autism Society, 2016). Autism is about 4.5 times more likely to affect boys than girls, and does not discriminate between racial, ethnic, and social groups (Autism Science Foundation, 2018). There is no specific factor which causes autism, rather it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.

Disability Services supports a number of Georgia State students on the autism spectrum. The prevalence rates of autism are rising nationally. According to the 2007 prevalence report of the CDC, 1 in 150 children were identified as having the disorder and this frequency rate had risen to 1 in 68 children by 2016 (Christensen et al., 2016). The university numbers show a similar trend. In 2016, 5.6% of students registered with Disability Services had an ASD diagnosis (Disability Services, 2016). This number saw a 9% increase in 2017 (Disability Services, 2017).

Myths about Autism:

Myth 1:: Autism is caused by bad parenting

Truth: In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved! (Autism Speaks, 2018b) Scientific research has shown that autism has a strong but complex genetic basis which needs to be examined further in order to be understood better (Abrahams and Greschwind, 2008). Although parental warmth and highquality parent-child relationships have been seen as having a negative correlation with behavioral problems in individuals on the spectrum and parental criticism seems to exacerbate symptoms, these factors are not the causes of the disorder (Smith et al, 2008).

Myth 2: Autism is caused by vaccines

Truth: A recent meta-analysis of ten studies involving more than 1.2 million children, reaffirms that vaccines don’t cause autism! (Autism Speaks, 2018b) Autism is caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

Myth 3: People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others

Truth: Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one’s body language or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice. However, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.(Autism Speaks, 2018b)

Tips for Communicating with a Person on the Autism Spectrum:

  1. Do not force eye contact and avoid unexpected touch.
    Individuals who find it odd to communicate without making eye contact should try sitting or walking beside the person with ASD when talking to them. Alternatively, they can try having a conversation while doing something that involves their eyes like coloring or crocheting. Individuals should not feel upset or offended when someone on the spectrum does not look at them while talking to them; it is not a sign that they are not listening. It is common for people with ASD not to look at the person or thing they are thinking about. Additionally, people with autism are often highly sensitive to touch, and even a friendly pat on the back can feel alarming or painful to them. It is vital to ask what their likes and boundaries are and act accordingly.
  2. Speak clearly and understandably.
    people with autism have no barriers to typical conversation, others may not fully understand everything that is being said. Those communicating with them should always be respectful, and be willing to repeat themselves if needed. Moreover, they should use their normal tone of voice and avoid baby talk. Some communication difficulties individuals with ASD may face involve trouble with figurative language. Sarcasm and humor may be confusing to people with autism. An explicit clarification stating that a comment was a joke may be required if they act strange or confused. Due to their speech processing challenges, it may take people with autism time to translate sounds into meanings in their heads Regardless of their intelligence or vocabulary. Giving pauses in the conversation will give them time to think and react. It is advised not to verbally rattle off a long list of things but rather write it down to help them remember.
  3. Be understanding of stimming.
    Stimming is a natural behavior of autism that is defined as self-stimulating repetitive motor movement, use of objects or speech behaviors that help with overstimulation, under stimulation or pain reduction (Wang, n.d.). When someone with ASD stims, it is best to act like there’s nothing unusual about it; One should either ignore it and keep talking, or try to respond to the emotion.

References:
Abrahams, B. S., & Geschwind, D. H. (2008). Advances in autism genetics: on the threshold of a
new neurobiology. Nature Reviews. Genetics, 9(5), 341–355 Retrieved from Nature Reviews.

Autism Science Foundation. (2018). What is autism?. Autism Science Foundation. Retrieved
from Autism Science Foundation.

Autism Speaks. (2018a). What is autism?. Autism Speaks. Retrieved from Autism Speaks.
Disability Services – Georgia State University. (2017). End of the Year Report. Atlanta, GA.

Wright, L. (2017). The real reason autism rates are up in the US. Scientific American. Retrieved
from Scientific American

Smith, L. E., Greenberg, J. S., Seltzer, M. M., & Hong, J. (2008). Symptoms and Behavior
Problems of Adolescents and Adults with Autism: Effects of Mother–Child Relationship. Quality, Warmth, and Praise. American Journal of Mental Retardation : AJMR, 113(5),
387–402. Retrieved from American Association on Intellectual and Development Disabilities.

Wang, K. (n.d.) Autism and stimming. Child Mind Institute. Retrieved from Childmind.