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100 Things to Know About Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2018

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) represents a group of developmental disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegrative disorder.
  2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 individuals are affected by ASD.
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorders can be diagnosed as early as 18 months to 2 years of age.
  4. Although reliable diagnoses can be given at 18 months to 2 years, the average child isn’t diagnosed with autism until 4 years of age.
  5. Scientists are discovering more innovative ways to diagnose autism. In 2017, a team of researchers were able to use brain scans and artificial intelligence to predict which 6-month old infants would go on to be diagnosed with ASD. Impressively, they performed at a 96 percent accuracy rate.
  6. No case of autism is exactly the same as another. Each person on the Spectrum is a unique individual.
  7. People of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic groups are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  8. Individuals on the Autism Spectrum range from having very mild symptoms to very severe developmental delays.
  9. Autism is about 4.5 more common in males – data shows that 1 in 42 boys have autism compared to 1 in 189 girls.
  10. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the U.S., with 1 in 28 boys being affected.
  11. In autism terminology, milder cases of the disorder are said to be in “high functioning” individuals while more severe cases are said to be in “low functioning” individuals.
  12. Autistic disorder typically describes those who are on the “low functioning” end of the Spectrum.
  13. Individuals with autistic disorder often struggle with severe deficits in speech, communication, social skills, motor functioning, and adaptive skills.
  14. Adaptive skills are the practical, day-to-day skills needed to live independently: bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, feeding oneself, and more.
  15. Asperger’s syndrome typically describes those who are on the “high functioning” end of the Spectrum.
  16. Children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome commonly struggle with social interactions or restricted interests, but don’t usually have difficulties with language or cognitive development.
  17. Sometimes referred to as ‘atypical autism,’ PDD-NOS is often thought of as being in between Asperger’s syndrome and autistic disorder. It’s common for those with PDD-NOS to struggle with communication, social behavior, and repetitive movements.
  18. Childhood disintegrative disorder, also known as disintegrative psychosis, is the rarest of the Spectrum disorders. It’s characterized by severe development deficits, often in children who were developing normally but then quickly regressed between ages two and four.
  19. These disorders were all placed under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
  20. Restrictive and repetitive behaviors are a common sign of ASD. These might include hand flapping, rocking back and forth, and fixations on certain objects.
  21. It’s common for individuals on the Spectrum to have difficulties with language or be completely nonverbal.
  22. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder might show typical language development and then quickly lose their ability to speak in words or phrases. This is called regression.
  23. Many children who are nonverbal at the age of four go on to overcome their severe language delays, according to a large study of 535 nonverbal children with autism.
  24. Children with autism often struggle with transitions. A slight change in routine can lead to meltdowns or temper tantrums.
  25. Echolalia describes a behavior involving repetition of words or phrases. It’s a common sign of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  26. Children on the Autism Spectrum often avoid eye contact.
  27. Some children with autism may engage in aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, like head banging against walls or floors when upset.
  28. Sensory sensitivities to lights, sounds, and textures are commonly seen among those with autism.
  29. Many people with autism are extremely gifted in certain areas, like mathematics, music, or art.
  30. Micah Miner, a young gymnast with autism, is a prime example of this. By the time he was nine years old, Micah competed in the gymnastics National Championship for the third time.
  31. Epilepsy is common among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, seen in up to a third of the autism population.
  32. April is Autism Awareness Month.
  33. Back in 2007, the United Nations named April 2nd as international Autism Awareness Day.
  34. To help raise autism awareness, Autism Speaks launched the Light It Up Blue campaign.
  35. To show support for autism, landmarks like the White House, the Empire State Building, the Great Pyramid of Giza and more will light up blue on April 2nd.
  36. There’s no single cause of autism.
  37. Some of the high-risk factors for autism include genes and genetic mutations, chromosomal conditions, family factors, environmental influences, prenatal influences, and birth complications.
  38. There are treatments that can help ease the symptoms of ASD, but there is no cure for autism.
  39. Applied Behavior Analysis therapy is the leading treatment option for young children on the Spectrum.
  40. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) involves figuring out the motivation behind certain behaviors, and then applying this to reduce undesirable behaviors and increase positive ones.
  41. Decades worth of scientific research shows that ABA therapy is effective at helping children with autism make significant strides to overcome their developmental delays.
  42. One of the main techniques used in ABA is DTT (discrete trial training). Basically, DTT breaks down tasks into small components. Children build up skills by tackling each smaller component one-by-one.
  43. Another main technique used in ABA is NET (natural environment training). Children might work on many of the same goals as in DTT, but in a more natural play environment.
  44. Generalization is a common term used in ABA to describe a child’s ability to naturally implement behaviors and skillsets in a variety of settings.
  45. ABA therapy is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Autism Society of America.
  46. The earlier ABA therapy is started, the better the outcome. Children who start receiving ABA therapy at 2 years old make more significant changes than those who start ABA at later ages, according to research.
  47. Ole Ivar Lovaas is known as the pioneer of Applied Behavior Analysis.
  48. ABA therapy used to be seen as controversial due to aversive therapy techniques. However, nowadays, there are no aversive procedures used in ABA.
  49. ABA therapy focuses largely on positive reinforcements. ABA therapists will reinforce desirable behaviors with a child’s favorite toys, snacks, and social praise.
  50. ABA therapy is an all-encompassing approach to overcoming the deficits associated with autism. Target areas of ABA therapy include speech, nonverbal communication, social skills, play skills, adaptive skills, toilet training, food therapy, and much more.
  51. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are Master’s level health practitioners. They create the child-specific treatment plans implemented in ABA therapy centers.
  52. ABA therapists provide one-on-one therapy for children in ABA autism facilities.
  53. Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) are ABA therapists who have gone on to complete 40 hours of training and pass the RBT exam.
  54. Other autism therapies include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, art therapy, and music therapy.
  55. There is currently no scientifically proven link between autism and vaccines.
  56. Individuals with autism are particularly vulnerable to being bullied. Studies have found that over 60 percent of children on the Spectrum have experienced bullying.
  57. Data shows that the most severe bullying tends to occur among children in 5th to 8th
  58. There are a number of tips recommended by autism experts to help a child on the Spectrum who is being bullied, including identifying emotions and creating bully-proofing plans. See them here.
  59. Unemployment rates are a big issue in the autism community. A report out of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute found that a third of young adults with autism didn’t have a job or educational plans.
  60. Integrate Autism Employment Advisors is a program that helps adults on the Spectrum lock down jobs through job coaching boot camps and networking opportunities. The organization also reaches out to employers to encourage more hiring of autistic individuals.
  61. Rett’s Syndrome is often confused with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Rett’s Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that mainly affects girls, is characterized by a rapid loss of speech, coordination, and use of the hands.
  62. Research has shown that parental interactions with babies can ease the signs of autism as the baby progresses to toddler age.
  63. Temple Grandin, one of the most prominent voices in the autism community, didn’t speak until she was three and a half years old.
  64. Temple Grandin went on to become an author and speaker on autism and animal behavior, as well as a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Many people view her as showing the world the true potential of those on the Spectrum.
  65. Temple Grandin has inspired many with her well-known quote, “Different, Not Less.”
  66. Some other well-known people considered to be on the Spectrum include Susan Boyle, John Elder Robinson, Daryl Hannah, and Andy Warhol.
  67. Technology can be a huge help for individuals with autism who struggle with communication. There are a number of iPad apps designed to help nonverbal children communicate their wants and needs.
  68. There are also daily scheduling apps for iPads to help ease the anxiety associated with transitions.
  69. Some common autism assessments for an autism diagnosis include M-CHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers), CARS (Childhood Autism Rating Scale), ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire), and ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – 2nd edition).
  70. The ADOS-2 is largely seen as the gold standard of diagnostic assessments for autism.
  71. Autism Spectrum Disorder can be diagnosed by developmental pediatricians, pediatricians, neurologists, and psychologists.
  72. Autism is becoming more included in pop culture, with shows like Atypical and The Good Doctor making their ways to Netflix and ABC.
  73. In April of 2017, Sesame Street debuted Julia: a new four-year-old character with autism. The goal was to familiarize children with the differences they might notice in their classmates who have autism – and to know that different is okay.
  74. Some people believe that autism is the result of bad parenting or child neglect. This is not the case.
  75. It’s common for children with ASD to only like eating two or three foods. Therapists can work through a slow process of introducing new textures and foods to build up to a more nutritious diet.
  76. The autism community has a strong online presence. Many parents, therapists, and individuals on the Spectrum run blogs to educate and connect with others. Check out some of the most outstanding autism blogs here.
  77. Weighted blankets can be an anxiety-reducer for some kiddos on the Spectrum. Weighted blankets provide a gentle pressure that eases the sensory issues associated with ASD.
  78. Sensory swings provide a number of benefits. They can encourage motor planning, balance, and core stability.
  79. The largest-ever study on twins and autism found that if one identical twin has autism, there is a 76 percent chance that the other identical twin will also have autism
  80. The same twins study found that same-sex fraternal twins have a 34 percent chance of both having an autism diagnosis, while opposite-sex fraternal twins share an 18 percent chance of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  81. Autism was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943.
  82. Reporting on 11 children, Dr. Kanner’s initial observations on autism described the children as having “a powerful desire for aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.”
  83. Before Dr. Kanner’s work, autism was often confused with schizophrenia.
  84. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder. The prevalence of ASD in children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010.
  85. In 2014, researchers identified a whopping 60 genes with more than a 90 percent chance of increasing the risk for autism in a child. Previously, just 11 genes had been linked with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  86. Just last year (2017), an analysis published in Nature Neuroscience identified 18 new genes linked with autism.
  87. In September 2018, the National Institutes of Health awarded nine research grants to the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program. The grants totaled nearly $100 million.
  88. The nine research grants will delve into improving autism treatments, identifying the early signs of autism by studying social interaction, how autism differs between girls and boys, and more.
  89. The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a nonprofit organization with a mission to further scientific research on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  90. ASF provides funding and other resources/assistance to organizations and scientists conducting autism research.
  91. Many top colleges and universities offer degree programs in Applied Behavior Analysis. Some of the best ABA programs can be seen in this list.
  92. There are a number of books on autism that have made the New York Times Best-Seller List, including Look Me in the Eyes by John Elder Robison and The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida.
  93. Jordan Keller, a 12-year-old on the Spectrum, published a book called Jumbled Pieces: Autism. His mission is to help others understand what it’s like to grow up with autism.
  94. Insurance oftentimes covers the majority of the cost for ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.
  95. Unfortunately, in some states, Medicaid provides no coverage for ABA therapy. This leaves many families in need of autism services with little to no options.
  96. Congress passed the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) act in 2014.
  97. Under the ABLE act, individuals with disabilities are given the opportunity to open tax-free savings accounts without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs.
  98. Many children sit on waitlists to see a developmental pediatrician for 9 months or more. This delays the start of therapy and can significantly hurt a child’s ability to overcome developmental deficits.
  99. Waitlists are also an issue at many ABA centers.
  100. People on the autism spectrum are extraordinary, gifted, and loving human beings!

Understanding Autism: What are the Autism ‘High-Risk’ Factors?

Autism research has come a long way over the past several years, but researchers still haven’t determined an exact cause for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There’s a consensus among scientists that a number of influences are more likely at play, including biological, genetic and environmental risk factors.

What are some of the most common risk factors for autism?

Genes and Genetic Mutations

There’s no such thing as an “autism gene” – scientists haven’t linked one specific gene to all cases of ASD. That being said, there’s no shortage of research studies that link genes and genetic mutations with a higher risk of autism, but dozens of genes are known to play a role.

To date, researchers have tallied at least 65 genes that have a strong tie to autism, and over 200 more that have weaker ties to ASD. The list continues to grow. Just this year, a study revealed 18 more genes associated with autism. The more “high-impact” mutations appear to disable genes that are critical to early brain development.

Each case of ASD is unique, with its own combination of behaviors and developmental delays. With each new gene discovery, researchers are able to better explain the different cases of autism.

Chromosomal Conditions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data has shown that individuals with certain chromosomal conditions, like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis, are more likely to have ASD.

Family/Biological Factors  

In addition to genes, there are some other biological factors known to play a role in the likelihood that a child will have ASD. One is paternal age – older fathers have been linked with higher autism risk. Siblings also play a role. Research from the University of California, Davis (UCD) found that children with at least one older sibling with ASD have an 18 percent chance of also having the disorder.

Environmental Influences

A number of environmental factors are also known to have an effect on autism risk. When it comes to the nutritional risk factors associated with ASD, the research on folic acid and omega 3 deficiency has been less conclusive. However, many individuals with autism have been shown to be vitamin-D deficient. Exposure to some pesticides and heavy metals, particularly mercury and lead, have also been linked with autism.

Prenatal Influences

A meta-analysis study on the link between autism risk and prenatal influences revealed a number of pregnancy complications linked with ASD risk: advanced parental age at birth, maternal medication use during pregnancy, bleeding, gestational diabetes, and being born first rather than third or later.

Birth Complications

A 2017 review found strong links between autism and certain traumatic birth complications, including hypoxia and ischemia. Babies with neonatal anemia, or being low on oxygen-carrying red blood cells, were found to be eight times more likely to develop autism later in life. Fetal stress caused by meconium aspiration, a condition in which oxygen deprivation leads a fetus to inhale waste products in the womb, was also linked to a sevenfold increase of later ASD development.

Autism Risk Could Be Flagged as Early as 1-2 Months, Study Finds

As diagnostic assessments and resources continue to improve, more cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are being diagnosed each year. It’s well-known that intervening as early as possible gives children on the spectrum the best chance at overcoming the developmental deficits associated with ASD. As such, scientists have been working to discover more ways to detect ASD as early as possible.

Generally, autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age. However, researchers from the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University found a biomarker that may be able to predict a high risk of autism in 1- to 2-month old infants.

The research team, using data from the National Database for Autism Research (NDAR), analyzed brain scans of 71 high and low risk infants at either a 1-2 month period or a 9-10 month period. One set of scans was taken during a resting period of sleep and the other while the infants were presented with their native language.

According to the study findings, the infants with a high risk of ASD showed some particular patterns during sleep: higher levels of “noise” and an increased randomness in spontaneous head movements. The high-risk 1- to 2-month old infants also showed similar head movement signatures to each other while the low risk infants showed distinct head movement signatures during both the sleep and language conditions.

The researchers also found that specific head movement features during sleep predicted that the 1- to 2-month-old infants in the high-risk group would exhibit delayed early learning developmental trajectories. Even those high-risk infants without ASD diagnoses showed significantly lower functioning in childhood compared to the low risk infants, so the current research offers the potential to forecast which infants will show atypical developmental behaviors as toddlers.

Since the study is the first of its kind, additional research is needed to replicate and confirm the current findings. Nonetheless, the Colombia University team has brought an exciting possibility to the forefront of autism research.

Previous research has shown other innovative ways in which earlier autism detection might be possible. One team of researchers used brain scans and artificial intelligence to predict which 6-month-old infants would be diagnosed with ASD as toddlers with a 96 percent accuracy rate.

Just a couple weeks ago, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced research grants totaling nearly $100 million to support large studies on autism over the next five years. Our fingers are crossed that scientists will continue unearthing new methods for earlier ASD detection. Watch this space for updates.

Many Nonverbal Children with Autism Conquer Severe Language Delays

Speech delay is a core characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and it’s common for some children with ASD to regress and lose the ability to say certain words or phrases they’d once mastered. Many parents are told that their child will likely remain nonverbal, but an encouraging study published in the journal Pediatrics offers hope that this isn’t always the case.

In fact, the team of researchers in the 2013 study found that the majority of nonverbal autistic children in the study sample went on to overcome their severe language delays. The research included 535 children with ASD who hadn’t acquired the ability to speak in phrases by age four.

The researchers collected and analyzed data from the Simon Complex Collection (SSC), which is a multisite database of biological and phenotypic data on children ages four to 18.

Of the 535 children, 163 were considered to be severely speech delayed, meaning they could only speak in single words (‘no phrase speech’ group). The remaining children were categorized into the ‘phrase speech’ group, and a subsample of this group was considered as the ‘fluent speech’ group since they were given an ADOS (autism diagnostic observation schedule) module 3 or 4.

According to the study results, the majority of the children (70 percent) achieved phrase speech by 8 years of age, and nearly half of the study sample (47 percent) attained fluent speech. These encouraging findings provide hope that many children who are nonverbal at 4 years old can overcome their severe language delays.

Breaking down these findings further, the researchers concluded that the biggest predictors of successfully attaining phrase/fluent speech were nonverbal cognition and showing an interest in social engagement. Repetitive and sensory behaviors, on the other hand, didn’t predict whether a child would go on to attain speech.

“These findings offer hope to parents that their language-delayed child will go on to develop speech in elementary school, or even as teenagers,” Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer, Geraldine Dawson, said in an article. “By highlighting important predictors of language acquisition – especially the role of nonverbal cognitive and social skills – this also suggests that targeting these areas in early intervention will help to promote language.”

Early intervention with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically-validated method that helps children on the spectrum work through areas of severe developmental delay, like language and nonverbal communication.

Although the initial news of an ASD diagnosis can leave parents feeling overwhelmed or disheartened, this research serves as solid evidence that many children with autism have the ability to progress past their developmental delays to reach their highest potentials.

Parents’ Interactions with Babies May Ease Signs of Autism as Toddlers, Study Finds

Over the decades, ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy has proven itself as an effective treatment option for the severe developmental delays seen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Moreover, the scientific research suggests that the earlier a child begins early intensive therapy with ABA, the more gains are made in critical areas like communication, social skills, and day-to-day living skills. In a study of over 1,400 children and adolescents with ASD, researchers from the University of Missouri found that children who received more intensive therapy at younger ages saw greater advancements in communication and social skills.

It’s important for children to receive the earliest possible therapy because these early experiences play a critical role in brain development. According to a report by the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (NECTAC), Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child says “high quality early intervention services can change a child’s developmental trajectory” and “intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.”

Parents also play a key role in a child’s success rate. In fact, a recent 2017 study found that parents’ interactions with babies at high risk of autism may help to ease the severity of autism symptoms at age three.

In the preliminary part of the study, conducted back in 2015, parents received individualized training sessions on how to respond to their baby’s facial expressions and gestures. Then, the parents worked these teachings into their interactions with their 9-month old babies over the next five months.

At the end of the five months, researchers measured early autism signs using the Autism Observation Scale for Infants, as well as the quality of parent-child interactions. The data showed that babies in the treatment group showed fewer early signs of autism and better interactions with their parents.

The 2017 follow-up study assessed these same children, now at ages 2 and 3, with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Even years later, the quality of parent-child interactions was better among those who had received early parent training, and the toddlers showed less severe autism features.

 The researchers stress that larger studies are needed to confirm these results. However, they argue that “preemptive” therapy among infant populations can help parents address the early signs of autism and potentially ease the features of ASD during later development. This research solidifies just how important of a role parents play in the very early development of their child.