There are a lot of medical mysteries in the world. Despite advances in science and research, we’re still missing a lot of answers and one of the biggest mysteries surrounds autism.
Part of the problem is doctors don’t know the underlying cause of the disorder. Adding to the confusion are the varying degrees to how a child can be affected by autism. Almost no two cases of autism are alike. A child can present social and communication problems, but may also have gastrointestinal issues, sleep problems, and other medical problems.
But one thing is certain: the number of children with autism is growing. Part of the rising numbers may be due to better recognition and diagnosis. Statistics show autism is increasing 10-17 percent annually. It’s estimated one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, with a large percentage of those children being boys. One out of 70 boys is diagnosed with autism in the United States alone.
The term “autism” is used to describe a group of developmental brain disorders. There are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms. Because of the variance, researchers believe there may be more than one cause.
It’s possible multiple genetic components alone are to blame or a combination of genetics with some sort of environmental factor. There may also be a link between the functions and regulations of the immune system, both in the body and the brain. But science hasn’t come up with a definitive answer.
Screening for autism starts at 16 months, although research shows children may exhibit symptoms as early as 1 year old. For parents and other caregivers, it’s important to be aware of a child’s developmental milestones and at what age he or she should reach them.
· no big smiles or other joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter
· no back and forth sharing of sounds or other facial expressions by 9 months or thereafter
· no babbling by 12 months
· no back and forth gestures (waving, pointing, reaching) by 12 months
· no words by 16 months
· no two-word meaningful phrases by 24 months
· any loss of speech or social skills at any age.
If your child exhibits these symptoms, you should contact a pediatrician for an evaluation.
Autism awareness is a growing movement, in part because of the organization Autism Speak.
The nonprofit is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorder and funding research in the cause, prevention, and treatment for autism.
One way that you can help is taking part in the walk for Autism Speaks. The event helps fund autism research. This year’s event will take place on Oct. 22 on the national mall.
The 2.5-mile walk starts at 10 a.m. For more information on registering, starting a team, or joining a team, click here. There are nearby walks in Richmond, Virginia and Baltimore.