April is autism awareness month but building awareness throughout the year is important to improve our understanding of this ubiquitous condition. While social awareness has been increasing over the past decade, most people remain unclear as to its nature. According to the Autism Society of Maine (ASM), “Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain and occurs in approximately 1 out of every 68 births. Autism is five times more prevalent in boys (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 89) and knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. Family income, lifestyle and educational levels do not affect the chance of autism’s occurrence.”
What causes autism?
The short answer is, we don’t know for sure. Researchers have far to go in determining the causes and understanding the countless aspects and different experiences amongst people who share this condition. The most popular theories about the causes of autism include links between heredity, genetics and medical problems.
It is generally accepted that autism results from abnormalities in brain structure or functioning. MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CTs (Computed Tomography) have revealed differences in the shape and structure of the brains of children with autism compared to those of neurotypical children who have matured along the normal pathways of development. It does seem that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet determined what causes its onset.
What is the most important thing to know about a person who lives with autism?
Like everyone, people who live with this condition respond well to respect. While done with good intentions, mainstream (or “neuro-typical”) people often interact with those who have a developmental disability in a maternalistic or paternalistic manner by relating to adolescents or adults as though they are children.
As with all people, it is important to never judge a book by its cover or a person by labels. Autism exists amongst people from every culture. A significant percentage of those who live with autism have average or well above average IQs. As is true of us all, people with developmental disabilities have unique talents and abilities. Furthermore, they tend to be remarkably intuitive.
Our experience has consistently shown that people who live with autism tend to draw a sense of security from meaningful structure, routine, and predictability. They often struggle in adapting to change, especially when it is unexpected or sudden. Getting to know new people and places takes extra time. Eye contact is generally difficult and uncomfortable. Patience and kindness from their loved ones and those around them is key.
What can I do to help?
The need for further research cannot be overstated. As part of Autism Awareness Month, fundraising efforts are underway nationwide. Maine Behavioral Healthcare (MBH) is proud to support this year’s Walk for Autism. Walks are taking place on April 30th in five different regions statewide: Biddeford, Bangor, Farmington, Fryeburg, and Belfast.
The need for quality resources:
Quality services for children who live with developmental disabilities and their families are far too few in Maine. The professionals of Maine Behavioral Healthcare (MBH) have developed one of New England’s premier treatment programs: The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders (CADD). With a coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach to meet the complex needs of children and their families, CADD’s treatment teams include child psychiatrists, behavioral psychologists and analysts, occupational, physical, and speech therapists, nurses, social workers and special educators. All services are delivered by professionals who specialize in the unique needs of children with developmental disorders.
Center for Autism and Development Disorders (CADD)
Special kids, special care, a special place
236 Gannett Drive
South Portland, ME 04106