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April is designated as National Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. These observances are intended to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 88 children in the United States have ASD, and the diagnosis is far more common among boys than girls. Despite autism being so common, many people do not know exactly what autism is.
According to the CDC, ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. “Spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and levels of impairment that those diagnosed with ASDs can have. The National Institute of Mental Health lists five autistic spectrum disorders: autistic disorder (classic autism), Asperger’s disorder (Asperger syndrome), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Rett’s disorder (Rett syndrome) and childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD).
Research has yet to pinpoint the cause of ASDs, but studies suggest that both genes and environment are likely contributing factors.
Genes. Although family history does not seem to affect or predict an ASD diagnosis, once one sibling is diagnosed with an ASD, other siblings have 35 times the usual risk of also developing an ASD.
Environment. The environment includes anything surrounding your body that can affect your health, including water, air, food, medications and other materials you may come in contact with. Environmental influences on ASDs are still being researched, but various factors may each play a small role in ASD development.
There has been some concern that childhood vaccines cause ASDs. Although there may be other unknown causes of ASDs, the CDC states that there is no causal relationship between childhood vaccines and ASDs. Several regulatory bodies, including the CDC, continue to monitor vaccines for safety and effectiveness.
Early detection and diagnosis of an ASD is essential for providing the most effective treatment. Make sure an ASD screening is part of your child’s wellness checkups.