Autism 101

Family and Family Dynamics are recurring themes on this blog.

Often, I discuss my relationship with my parents and siblings as it pertains to my eating disorder recovery.

Sometimes, I am inspired to share a childhood memory or amusing anecdote.

Despite my considerable interest in genetic predisposition, I have yet to devote much online discourse to my youngest siblings, Mark and Aaron.

I mentioned them briefly in this post to illustrate why quality down-time with my mom is both precious and rare.

Mark (age 14) and Aaron (age 12) are both diagnosed with Severe Autism.

I want you to know about Autism.

Why should you care?

Because the incidences of Autism are growing exponentially.

1 in 68 American children is on the autism spectrum; that is just how prevalent the condition has become.

In the last 40 years, the rate has doubled tripled quadrupled increased ten-fold.  Government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years.  It is the fastest growing disability in the U.S.

What is Autism, exactly?

Autism and Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a neurodevelopmental disorder.  ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues.  Symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.

About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal

A wealth of information on Autism and Autism spectrum disorder can be found on the Autism Speaks website.  For expediency, I asked my mom to forward me the “Autism Basics” for those unfamiliar with the realities of the condition.

If you read nothing else on this post, I recommend looking over the “REALITY CHECK” portion at the bottom.  It can give you an idea of what day-to-day living is like and how activities or privileges that an average person would take for granted are an impossibility for the parent(s) of an autistic child.

Facts and Statistics:

  • 1 percent of the U.S. population has autism.
  • Prevalence is estimated at 1 in 68 births.
  • Fastest-growing developmental disability (10 – 17% annual growth).
  • $60 billion annual cost.
  • In 10 years, the estimated annual cost will be $400 billion.
  • The cost of autism over the lifespan is 3.2 million dollars per person.
  • 80% divorce rate for couples, who have an autistic child.

Identifying the Symptoms:

  • Does not babble or coo by 12 months.
  • Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months.
  • Does not say single words by 16 months.
  • Does not say two-word phrases by 24 months.
  • Loses words or social skills.

People with autism may:

  • The symptoms may vary from mild to severe.
  • Be sensory seeking (i.e. may lick objects).
  • Be sensory defensive (overwhelmed by sounds, visual stimulation, or tactile contact).  May cover their ears or eyes, or run away from the stimulus.
  • Stress out and have meltdowns during transitions (i.e.going from the parking lot into a store).
  • Scream in a store.
  • Have intense tantrums when daily routines are changed.
  • Have unusual and repetitive hand or body movements (i.e. fluttering fingers, looking sideways, etc.).
  • Have repetitive or nonsensical vocalizations.
  • Have limited communication skills (i.e. unable to make requests, or express thoughts or feelings).
  • Depending on the severity, may never speak, or lose acquired words.
  • Not use objects for their intended purpose (i.e. lining up toys).
  • Not empathize or understand the feelings or intent of others.
  • Not play interactive games with others.
  • Have limited or no eye contact with others.
  • Prefer ritualistic solitary play
  • Not engage in imaginative play (i.e. does not pretend).
  • Not think abstractly (i.e. tends to think in a concrete/ literal way).
  • Not imitate others (mirroring cells do not work properly).
  • Have a short attention span.
  • Excessively perseverate with a particular activity (i.e. will repeatedly rewind and watch the credits of a movie).
  • Seem to be wired backwards (i.e. fearful of ‘safe’ situations, but fearless in dangerous ones).
  • Tend to wander away (requiring the need for locks on all the exit doors).
  • Gravitate towards water (drowning is the #1 cause of death for ASD kids).
  • Ignore others, trying to get their attention.
  • Tantrum when requested to comply with a task.
  • Be aggressive and lash out at others, when stressed (i.e. biting, scratching, pinching, headbutting, etc.).
  • Academically lag behind, due to impaired language comprehension.
  • Have a self-restricting and limited diet (i.e. eats less than 5 different food items).


Airlines – will not allow disruptive individuals to board a plane. ASD children and their families are escorted off the plane if the child is too vocal, not cooperative, or combative.

Hotels – ASD children tend to wander out of hotel rooms.

Vacations – Maladaptive behaviors, meltdowns, tantrums, and complicated logistics often prevent families from taking family vacations.

Family Life – Siblings of autistic children receive significantly less attention from their parents, due to the ASD child requiring continuous supervision; behavioral, occupational, and speech therapies; frequent medical and psychiatry appointments, etc.

Financial Costs – Speech, Occupational, and ABA therapies are necessary to lessen the severity of autism. Popular alternative therapies, such as chelation, hyperbaric chambers, GF/CF diets, nutritional supplements, etc. are not covered by insurance.

Public – Most ASD families have had negative comments/ looks directed at them regarding their need to control their children’s behaviors out in public.

Community Support – Depending on the state you live in, will depend on what services your ASD child will receive.  APD wait-lists can be up to 10 years or more, to receive services (such as funding for respite or group homes).

Sitters – Finding and retaining a quality sitter, who is not afraid to take on the challenge of watching an ASD child, is problematic and expensive.

Reviewing the information reminds me of the overwhelming challenges my mom faces daily.

It is extremely frightening that Autism is becoming so common.

Even more frightening,  the medical community and researchers have been unable to pinpoint a definitive cause for this condition.

Why are so many children are developing Autism?

Currently, just a few theories exist on what contributes to Autistic predisposition. There is, however, growing research indicating certain medications, diets, supplements and therapies that help alleviate symptoms and behaviors.

Because of its remarkable prevalence, I am compelled to discuss the theories and treatments currently under medical scrutiny.

You can expect to see topical posts coming up in the near future; your continued readership is appreciated.

Check out the Autism Speaks website for more information.Autism2


4 thoughts on “Autism 101

  1. Are those diagnosed with autism protected by the ADA? I guess not based on the airline comment! I babysat for an autistic child in the early to mid-90s. The challenge was one of the determining factors in my short-lived babysitting career. Thank you for this post.

  2. Hey Nicole,
    To an extent, but for the most part, they are treated like second-class citizens. Those on the spectrum who are higher-functioning have a much easier time.
    I could never be a baby-sitter or caregiver to an ASD child. I don’t know how my mom does it!

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