By Beverly Stewart, M.Ed. – Published April 2014

The statistics are alarming. Official data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites 1 in 68 children born in 2002 have been diagnosed with autism, compared to 1 in 150 born in 1992. The incidence of autism is, without question, on the rise and can only be partially attributed to improved diagnosis.

But, what is Autism, exactly?

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a set of complex — and frequently misunderstood — disorders of brain development. According to a recently published article by Emily Willingham in Scientific American, “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” For parents, understanding the Autism Spectrum is often confusing, in part due to changing definitions and popular misconceptions. Below are some answers to the questions that parents ask most frequently.

What is the difference between Autism and the Autism Spectrum?

In May 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) merged all Autism disorders into one diagnosis of ASD and eliminated all subcategories – from Asperger Syndrome, to Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, to Autistic Disorder.

Are boys or girls most at-risk for developing ASD?

ASD is 4-5 times more common among boys than girls. CDC statistics say that 1 out of every 42 boys will be diagnosed, as compared to only 1 in 189 girls in the United States. A medical diagnosis can be obtained in children as young as 2 years old.

What are the symptoms of ASD?

The advocacy group Autism Speaks defines ASD symptoms as, “associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.” ASD is a spectrum, each child is unique, and not all exhibit “classic” symptoms, which is why diagnosis is crucial.

What causes ASD?

Research into the root causes of ASD have made great strides forward in recent years. And, while there is still no one definitive cause, scientists now point to a combination of factors including rare gene mutation, abnormalities in brain structure or function, and environmental factors influencing early brain development.

How does environment pose a risk?

Outside factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. In combination with a genetic predisposition, they may modestly increase risk. Factors include:

  • advanced parental age at time of conception (of either parent),
  • maternal illness or problems during pregnancy or delivery, and
  • environmental toxins.

My child has been diagnosed with ASD… now what?

Because ASD is a spectrum of related disorders, no “one size fits all.” However, there are many resources available for families:

The TEACCH Autism Program: a family-centered, evidence-based practice for autism, which offers flexible and person-centered support (all ages and skill levels). TEACCH is based in the “Culture of Autism” and stands for Teaching, Expanding, Appreciated, Collaborating, Cooperating and Holistic. Teachh.com

Autism Society, the leading autism organization in the U.S., provides information and support as well as plays host to the most comprehensive national conference on autism, attended by 2,000 people annually. Autism-society.org

Autism Delaware offers innovative local services, resources and support to individuals and families. Just a few examples include information on securing Medicaid, options for specialized services such as occupational therapists and speech therapists, and even respite care. DELautism.org

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Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.

Beverly Stewart, M.Ed. is President and Director of Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, Inc., an area leader in 1-on-1 tutoring and test prep for children and adults, and translating/interpreting since 1985. In addition, Back to Basics is a Department of Education approved 1-on-1 Private School for K-12, as well as a Business and Trade School for ages 16+.
Email Beverly at beverly@backtobasicslearning.com, call her at (302)594-0754 or visit on the web at www.backtobasicslearning.com or www.backtobasicsprivateschool.com.

Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, Inc. is located on 6 Stone Hill Road, Wilmington.

Beverly Stewart inducted to Hall of Fame of Delaware Women