Share this infographic on your site!

Autism 101: What We Know Today

Embed this infographic on your site!

The editors at Guide to Nursing Degrees decided to research the topic of:

Autism 101: What We Know Today

Despite growing awareness and advances in treatment, this fast-growing developmental disorder has enormous personal, family, and economic impact - and no known cure.

- 1 in 50 children have an autism spectrum disorder
- At 10-17% annual growth in cases, it's the fastest-growing developmental disability
- Effects 1 to 1.5 million Americans
- Symptoms appear by age 3
- 5x more prevalent in males
- $60 billion in annual costs, $3.2 million over an individual's lifespan
- No known cure, but early treatment can help
- Surge in cases may be due to better diagnosis, wider awareness, and broader definitions

Autism Spectrum

- Autistic disorder - impairments of social interaction, communication and play, and restricted or repetitive interests and activities
- Asperger's disorder - social interaction impairments and repetitive behavior, but usually without significant language delay
- Atypical autism - core autistic behaviors are present, but the criteria for autistic disorder are not fully met

Signs of Autism

- Impaired social interaction and communication
- Restricted and repetitive behavior, such as stacking or lining up objects

Symptoms of autistic disorder children age 1-3

- no babbling or pointing by age 1
- no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- no response to name
- loss of language or social skills
- poor eye contact
- excessive lining up of toys or objects
- no smiling or social responsiveness

Autism and Adulthood

- Increasingly, parents are seeking help as their child transitions to late teenage and adult years
- Challenges include education, living arrangements, supervised day care, and more
- Young adults may qualify academically for college, but can't cope with other aspects of college life

"Adults face discrimination that comes from a lack of understanding about autism. The tolerance that is extended to children with autism is often lacking." - Pamela Dixon Thomas, PhD, LP, psychologist with the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center (UMACC)

Science of Autism

- Neurodevelopmental disorder
- Strong basis in genetic mutation
- Evidence for environmental causes such as vaccines, foods, and heavy metals is anecdotal, but extensive studies are underway

Autism and the Family

- Marital stress: 80% divorce rate in families with children who have autism
- Lack of rest due to difficulty in finding child care
- Challenges involving diagnosis, services, adolescence, and post high school
- Siblings may develop a greater sense of responsibility, or may feel resentment at the extra attention the child with autism receives "Having a child with Autism can mess with your head: You feel like you can move mountains for them yet you're powerless at the same time." - Stuart Duncan Treatment
- Educational/behavioral interventions targeting social and language skills and family counseling for parents and siblings of children with autism
- Medications including those to treat anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive behavior; in severe cases, antipsychotic medications

Controversial treatments

- Chelation - attempts to eliminate metals such as mercury from the body (a potentially hazardous medical procedure)
- DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) - includes nutritional supplements, gluten-free diet, treatment for allergies and intestinal bacterial/yeast overgrowth "When living with a neurological condition (or with a loved one who has one), it can be very easy to focus on the challenges and limitations. But in my life, I have found that focusing on abilities, finding new ways to adapt, have been crucial to my successes in life. Seeking those solutions can even be seen as a form of creativity." - Lynne Soraya (nom de plume for a writer with Asperger's Syndrome)

Significant Findings from Recent Studies

- High-quality early intervention for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can do more than improve behaviors, it can improve brain function.
- Being nonverbal at age 4 does not mean children with autism will never speak. According to research, most will, in fact, learn to use words, with half learning to speak fluently.
- Though autism tends to be life long, some children with ASD make so much progress that they no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. High quality early-intervention may be key.


- 1943 - Dr. Leo Kanner publishes a paper about a condition he calls "early infantile autism"
- 1966 - A British Study estimates the rate of autism in at .04%
- 1967 - Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim promotes a theory that "refrigerator mothers" cause autism
- 1977 - Studies of twins reveal autism as a largely genetic disorder
- 1980 - "Infantile autism" listed as a distinct disorder in the DSM
- 1987 - Psychologist Ivar Lovaas publishes a study showing positive effects of intensive therapy
- 1988 - "Rain Main," starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant
- 1991 - At federal prompting, schools begin identifying and serving autistic students
- 1994 - Asperger's disorder is recognized, expanding the autism spectrum to include milder cases
- 1997 - National Institutes of Health Autism Coordinating Committee launches
- 1998 - A Lancet study suggests that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism (later debunked)
- 1999 - California reports 12,000 autism cases, an increase of more than 200% in a decade
- 2005 -Autism Speaks founded - now the world's largest autism advocacy group
- 2007 - Autism Centers for Excellence launches, coordinated by the NIH/ACC
- 2009 - The CDC estimates that 1 in 110 children have autism spectrum disorders, up from 1 in 150 in 2007