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(The following information is from Autism Speaks)

What is autism/autism spectrum disorder?

Autism refers to a broad range of conditions that can vary from person to person, making autism a spectrum disorder where individuals have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. These conditions include but are not limited to challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Symptoms can range from mild, where the person can hold a job and manage social relationships to severe where daily support is needed.

Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.

Signs of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism.

Who has autism?

In 2021, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2018 data.

  • 1 in 27 boys diagnosed with autism

  • 1 in 116 girls diagnosed with autism

  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.

  • Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.

  • Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

  • Minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.

  • Early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.

  • There is no medical detection for autism.

What causes autism?

  • Research indicates that genetics are involved in the vast majority of cases.

  • Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having autism.

  • Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2% to 18% chance of having a second child who is also affected.

  • Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has autism, the other will be affected about 36% to 95% of the time. In non-identical twins, if one child has autism, then the other is affected about 31 percent of the time. 

  • Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.

What are other challenges people with autism face?

  • An estimated 40% of people with autism are nonverbal. 

  • Thirty-one percent of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85).

  • Nearly half of those with autism wander or bolt from safety. 

  • Nearly two-thirds of children with autism between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied.

  • Nearly 28% of 8-year-olds with ASD have self-injurious behaviors. Head banging, arm biting and skin scratching are among the most common.

  • Drowning remains a leading cause of death for children with autism and accounts for approximately 90 percent of deaths associated with wandering or bolting by those age 14 and younger.

What other conditions are associated with autism?

  • Autism can affect the whole body.

  • Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 30 to 61 percent of children with autism.

  • More than half of children with autism have one or more chronic sleep problems.

  • Anxiety disorders affect an estimated 11% to 40% of children and teens on the autism spectrum.

  • Depression affects an estimated 7% of children and 26% of adults with autism.

  • Children with autism are nearly eight times more likely to suffer from one or more chronic gastrointestinal disorders than are other children.

  • As many as one-third of people with autism have epilepsy (seizure disorder).

  • Studies suggest that schizophrenia affects between 4% and 35% of adults with autism. By contrast, schizophrenia affects an estimated 1.1% of the general population.

  • Autism-associated health problems extend across the life span – from young children to senior citizens.

  • Nearly a third (32%) of 2- to 5-year-olds with autism are overweight and 16% are obese. By contrast, less than a quarter (23%) of 2- to 5-year-olds in the general population are overweight and only 10% are medically obese.

What happens when a child with autism reaches adulthood?

  • Over the next decade, an estimated 707,000 to 1,116,000 teens (70,700 to 111,600 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school-based autism services.

  • Teens with autism receive healthcare transition services half as often as those with other special healthcare needs. Young people whose autism is coupled with associated medical problems are even less likely to receive transition support.

  • Many young adults with autism do not receive any healthcare for years after they stop seeing a pediatrician.

  • More than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years after high school. This is a lower rate than that of young adults in other disability categories, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability or speech-language impairment.

  • Of the nearly 18,000 people with autism who used state-funded vocational rehabilitation programs in 2014, only 60% left the program with a job. Of these, 80% worked part-time at a median weekly rate of $160, putting them well below the poverty level.

  • Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.

  • Research demonstrates that job activities that encourage independence reduce autism symptoms and increase daily living skills.

What should I know about communicating with someone with autism?

Mitchell, a long-time participant in the UAS Monthly Meetups at Pompei Restaurant, created a document on interacting with people with autism and other challenges. He developed it as a member of the Museum of Contemporary Art's Accessibility Task Force. Read it here.

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