It is Autism Day, so light it up blue

World Autism Awareness Day is marked on 2 April, to raise awareness of the condition and its impact on individuals and families. On the day, here are key facts, myths and statistics about the lifelong condition.

The World Autism Awareness Day was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health priority. Over 70 million individuals have autism worldwide and counting.

Although there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, a better understanding of therapies, support and other interventions are available to help adults, children and their parents.

What is autism?

Autism is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, behaviour and interests. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that while autistic people share certain difficulties, the condition will affect individuals differently. Unless the right support is available or given, autism can have a profound and sometimes devastating impact on individuals and their families. The right support can make a huge difference to the lives of people with autism and those around them.

“Autistic people see, hear and feel the world in a different way from other people,” the UK’s National Autistic Society (NAS) states. “If you are autistic, you are autistic for life – autism is not an ‘illness’ and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic as a fundamental aspect of their identity.”

The NAS has recently launched a campaign called Too Much Information, to raise awareness of autism.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “Autism is complex and autistic people and their families don’t expect or want people to be experts. But our research shows that when people recognise that someone is autistic, and understand the difficulties they face, they’re more likely to respond with empathy and understanding.”

What causes autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that profoundly affects the functioning of the brain. It is estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 500 individuals. Autism is 4 times more prevalent in boys than girls. Its prevalence rate now places it as the 3rd most common developmental disability more common than Down syndrome. Autism is often referred to as a spectrum disorder, which means that the symptoms of autism can occur in many combinations and may range from mild to severe. Children with autism often look normal, but seem to be withdrawn into their own world.

Individuals with autism find it hard to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. Aggression and self-injurious behavior may also be present. Other behaviors exhibited may include repeated body movements (such as rocking and hand flapping), unusual responses to people or attachments to objects and resistance to changes and routines. Individuals with autism may experience sensory problems in the 5 senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste. Although a single cause of autism has not yet been found, recent research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disability suggesting a genetic basis to the disorder.

Even though there is no cure for autism, better understanding of the disorder has lead to the development of interventions and coping mechanisms. With the proper intervention, many of the autism behaviors can be positively changed, appearing to the untrained person that the child or adult no longer has autism.

However, the majority of people with autism may still continue to exhibit some symptoms of autism throughout their entire lives.