A Changing Landscape for Autism Awareness

Autism is as complex as it is ubiquitous.

It is estimated that roughly one percent of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder and that it impacts one in every 68 babies born in the U.S.

What the figure doesn’t take into account, however is the broad diversity that autism encompasses. Some individuals on the autism spectrum may need substantial daily support; while others live completely independent lives. So what is autism?

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with executive functioning, which relates to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities. A person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others besides. The diagnosis of autism is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity. 

While there is no “cure” for autism, studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes; and research and awareness have taken huge steps forward in recent years. Along with advances in diagnosis and treatment options, autism understanding continues to grow on a national and community level. Awareness helps in educating parents and professionals about the signs and symptoms of autism – and also shines a light on individuals with autism so people can better understand and embrace any differences they may have.

Pop culture has also played a role, as recently PBS’ “Sesame Street” introduced a Muppet with autism named Julia, receiving widespread acclaim. Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out,” AMC’s “The A-Word” and NBC’s “Parenthood,” among others, are other examples of autism in mainstream culture.

April is now recognized as Autism Awareness Month, while April 2 is World Autism Day. The designated month and day allows community leaders, organizations and individuals to spread information and take action to support autism research and education. Read about autism and its challenges. Talk with your friends about getting involved. Reach out to a family member, friend, classmate or coworker with autism to make a personal connection. Volunteer as a coach or donate. Even the smallest effort can make a big impact on the evolution of autism awareness.

Research shows that sports and physical activity can lead to improvement in symptoms, behaviors, and quality of life for individuals with autism. Special Olympics Nevada is dedicated to empowering individuals with autism – and other intellectual disabilities – through free year-round training and sports competitions, educational resources and health initiatives. Not only do athletes learn new skills and develop coordination, but they're able to do so in a "safe" environment where they can interact with other people in a non-pressured, relaxing way. Coaches and staff are experienced in working with children and adults who may have trouble communicating or have sensory issues and will find a way – and a sport – best suited to each athlete.

Follow Special Olympics Nevada on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SONevada for more information and stories throughout Autism Awareness Month. 

[Sources: Autism Speaks, Special Olympics, Forbes]