April is Autism Awareness Month

April 16, 2014 College News - The month of April is Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 was Autism Awareness Day. It is a good time to share general information about autism as well as information about MCW’s research and clinical efforts focused on autism.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Although the diagnostic labels are now limited to Autism or ASD, historically this diagnostic spectrum also included pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.

Some additional facts about autism from Autismspeaks.org:

  • Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
     
  • Autism prevalence figures are growing
     
  • Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
     
  • Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
     
  • Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism
     
  • There is no medical detection or cure for autism

Within the Department of Neurology, the Division of Neuropsychology offers an Autism Clinic, which provides evaluations for children under the age of six for whom the primary question is whether or not the child has an ASD.  The assessment includes clinical interview, brief cognitive evaluation, and observation of the child in play with parents and peers.  All participating providers and psychometrists participate in the observations and discussion of each patient for diagnostic clarity.  The evaluation also provides detailed recommendations to help families navigate the autism treatment options. 

The Division of Neuropsychology also is conducting autism research and will soon begin recruiting participants for a study aimed at identifying and addressing medical and neurological risk factors that result in a late diagnosis of autism.

Early identification of autism results in optimal opportunity for effective intervention. Children who have medical or neurological disorders are at greater risk for autism than the general population, but they often are not identified as having autism until they are older. This discrepancy in age of diagnosis likely reduces their opportunity for maximal intervention. 

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