April is National Autism Awareness Month. Awareness months are helpful because they bring public attention to issues facing many of our friends and families and autism is no different. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical term for Autism is autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is described as a group of developmental disabilities which can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.
The National Institute of Mental Health further characterizes ASD as:
• Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
• Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities.
• Symptoms that typically are recognized during early childhood.
• Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life.
Further explanation of these characteristics can be found at National Institute of Mental Health.
It is important to note that individuals diagnosed with ASD differ in their learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities. Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function.
There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to in neurotypical children. Researchers do not know the exact cause of autism but are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics, and medical problems.
In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting the theory that the disorder has a genetic basis. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that children with autism may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single “trigger” that causes autism to develop. However, ASD can usually be diagnosed by the age of two.
There are a variety of organizations that provide helpful resources and information regarding ASD. One organization is the Autism Society, which was founded in 1965 by Bernard Rimland, Ph.D, whose own son was diagnosed with ASD. Since its formation, the Autism Society has grown from a handful of parents to having local and state affiliate offices in nearly all fifty states. These offices are connected through a network that enables the Autism Society to share resources like referral services and education/awareness programs. The Autism Society is dedicated to its role of increasing public awareness about ASD, which includes the day-to-day challenges faced by individuals, families, and professionals affected by ASD. If you would like to learn more visit the Autism Society. Another organization that serves as a resource for ASD is Autism Now.
If you have questions regarding any of the information mentioned in this week’s article, please do not hesitate to call my Capitol or District Office. Please always feel free to contact my office if you have any questions or issues regarding a Texas state agency, or if you would like to contact my office regarding constituent services. As always, my offices are available at any time to assist with questions, concerns, or comments (Capitol Office, 512-463-0672; District Office, 361-949-4603).
– State Representative Todd Hunter, District 32
Rep. Hunter represents Aransas County and Nueces County (Part). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 512-463-0672