Autism awareness month: April showers bring special powers

Zarqua Ansari, Staff Writer

What do Emily Dickinson, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Bill Gates, Jerry Seinfeld, Mozart and Albert Einstein all have in common? They all have (or had) autism.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism has been identified in about 1 in 59 children.

To increase the awareness of a disorder that affects much of the population and is commonly misunderstood, the month of April is designated as Autism Awareness Month. Autism Awareness Day falls on April 2.

Many people believe that autism is caused by vaccines. This has been disproven time and time again. In fact Andrew Wakefield, the man that published a study proving this presumed fact in 1997, has been completely discredited on many accounts.

There were procedural errors, falsifications of data and many other scientifically unapproved aspects to his study. An argument made on no evidence isn’t an argument but a false claim.

That being said, what exactly is autism? Let’s break down the name. Autism spectrum disorder or as it is commonly called autism, is a mental disorder. It is a spectrum which suggests that it doesn’t have  definitive stages, but rather, like a color spectrum, is fluid.

According to Autism Speaks, ASD refers to a wide range of conditions that are characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. These are common symptoms of many other mental disorders, such as turrets, ADHD, and anxiety.

In other words, autism is a scale of mental disorder symptoms. Some people have more symptoms and some have very few.

For instance, many people can’t even tell that I am slightly autistic. I tend not to bring it up because it doesn’t really make a difference.

However, every now and then, someone picks up on a nervous tick and asks me about it.

I’m often told “you don’t look autistic.” This is true only because no one looks autistic. Autism is a mental disorder, not a physically characterizable one. For this reason, it is often difficult to diagnose.

“ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive final diagnosis until much older.”

This is a problem because early intervention treatment can improve a child’s development. These services include therapy to help the child talk, walk and interact with others. As of today, prevention seems to be the only cure for autism.

Although the cause for autism isn’t known, many risk factors have been linked to it. Children with autistic siblings especially an autistic twin are at a higher risk. Children born to older parents also have a higher risk.

Drugs containing valproic acid and thalidomide that are taken during pregnancy greatly increase this risk as well. Interestingly ASD is nearly four times as common in males than females. These factors are environmental, biologic and genetic in nature.

According to Dr. Zaman, ASD is often “considered an embarrassment.” It is more common for people in America to be exposed to autistic individuals and therefore it is more accepted.

“Many people of different ethnicities, especially Asian cultures, have difficulty accepting that their child has ASD, or any other mental disorder that may affect their learning ability.”

It’s often proven that the first three years of a child’s life greatly influence their social skills for the rest of their lives.

It has also been said that “many people aren’t patient enough with their kids and this can cause the child to grow up with a negative sense of self.” Autistic children are affected by this even more strongly than other children.

However, there’s nothing wrong with being a little different. Many famous people who bring ease and comfort to our daily lives are autistic.

So next time you’re using your iPhone, reading poetry, or watching Seinfeld be mindful about Autism and aim to spread awareness of this disease this Autism Awareness Month.