With so much going on in the news today, from the G-20 Summit to Blago’s indictment, it appears that an event of significant import has largely fallen by the wayside. April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day.
Despite all the walks and the charities which collect money to research and disseminate information about autism, it is not a widely understood condition. Autism is a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development: reciprocal social interaction skills, communication skills, and the presence of stereotyped behavior, interests, and activities.
Though a subject of controversy for years, it is now widely accepted by the medical and psychological community that autism and related conditions exist along a spectrum.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs), cause severe and pervasive impairment in thinking, feeling, language, and the ability to relate to others. These disorders are usually first diagnosed in early childhood and range from a severe form, called autistic disorder, through pervasive development disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), to a much milder form, Asperger syndrome. They also include two rare disorders, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.
Though all Autistic Spectrum Disorders share similar characteristics, they vary in symptoms, severity, and prognosis. Even individuals sharing the diagnosis of Autistic Disorder will manifest the condition in different ways. There is typically marked impairment in nonverbal behaviors (making eye contact, understanding facial expressions, and various body gestures), and the inability to accurately read and understand interpersonal gestures and cues often leads to social isolation. A lack of emotional reciprocity may be notable, and an autistic person’s awareness of his/her peers may be significantly diminished. Communication skills are typically severely limited, and many individuals are entirely unable to develop spoken language. Even when speech is present, the pitch, rhythm, intonation, rate, or stress may be aberrant. Autistic individuals may present with inappropriate affect, an incongruency between outward emotional reaction and the situational or environmental cues (e.g., laughing at inappropriate times or flat intonation in moments of extreme emotional distress).
These individuals may display repetitive, stereotyped behavior patterns, and there may be a preoccupation with a narrow, limited area of interest, such as the memorization of dates or phone numbers. Many individuals once cruelly described as “idiot savants” suffered from autism, and the phenomenon has since been coined Savant Syndrome (Savantism), defined by the Wisconsin Medical Society as a rare “condition in which persons with various developmental disorders, including autistic disorder, have astonishing islands of ability, brilliance or talent that stand in stark, markedly incongruous contrast to overall limitations.” There is frequently an obsessive adherence to routines, even those which may be maladaptive, and resistance to change of any sort is generally considerable. Stereotyped, repetitive bodily gestures often involve the hands (e.g.,clapping, finger snapping) or full body movements (e.g., rocking, swaying). Head rolling, body rocking, and head banging (a habit of repeatedly slamming one’s head into walls or other inanimate objects) are sometimes involuntary, compulsive practices which are often associated with autism.
Though there is no cure for autism, there are other ways to provide support and aid.
US president Barack Obama pledged to increase funding for research and support services for people with autism, and it is the only condition specifically mentioned on his 24 point health agenda.
In the UK, charities and people affected by autism are urging the Government to recognise autism spectrum disorders as distinct from other conditions, deserving urgent strategic planning, policy development and dedicated resource allocation. Research suggests that autism is costing the UK £27.5 billion pounds a year – a cost which could be vastly reduced if the right support was put in place. A significant proportion of this is the result of lost earnings by adults with autism, so it is not just an issue of cost but of missed opportunity.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, speaking on behalf of all the autism charities, comments “One in a hundred people in the UK have autism, yet the services and support available to them and their carers are woefully inadequate. While some people with autism may need a lifetime of specialist support, others, given the opportunity, would be able to live relatively independent lives. It is vital that we all stand up for autism in order to gain the support and understanding which people with autism should be entitled to by right.”
In December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which pronounced April 2 World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). Today 20 autism charities united to call on people throughout the UK to Stand Up for Autism.
Stand up for Autism is a theme chosen to highlight how many people are personally affected by autism and how important it is that we stand up and speak out in order to gain the right level of help, support and understanding. All too often autism is not properly understood as a distinct condition and the needs of people affected by autism are not recognised.
[. . .]
We want everyone to stand up for autism and help ensure that:
– people with autism are not unfairly discriminated against and their rights as people with disabilities as well as citizens are promoted
– the numbers with autism are known and inform the provision of services and support
– adequate research funds are made available to enable understanding of autism and develop appropriate interventions and support
– that those providing services and support across public services have adequate understanding of autism
– that resources are made available to support those living with autism
– that public awareness of autism is raised to help remove social barriers for those living with autism
President Barack Obama issued the following statement in support of World Autism Awareness Day:
I am proud to add my voice in support of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month. Autism Spectrum Disorders have quietly become some of the most serious public health issues in the United States and the world today. Autism not only jeopardizes the future of our children, but also has a devastating impact on our families, communities, and on all levels of government here at home and around the world.
Today’s celebration of World Autism Awareness Da
y is a call to action, and the United States must once and for all act quickly and effectively. As president, I will work closely with the families affected by ASD to ensure our government lives up to its responsibility to individuals with ASD. Together, we can ensure that everyone with ASD has a meaningful opportunity to get the education and resources they need to live independently as full citizens in their communities.
Raising awareness is an integral part of the fight to improve the lives of those living with autism. Please visit the Autism Society of America’s website to see what you can do to help make a difference during April, National Autism Awareness Month.