April is Autism Awareness Month

Published 4:34 pm Saturday, April 14, 2018

By Sheri Willrodt

Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools

Monday, April 2, was the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day. Each year, autism organizations around the world recognize this day with unique, awareness-raising events.

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If you caught yourself seeing blue that day, it’s because the official color for National Autism Awareness Month is a bright royal blue.

The primary symbol for autism is a puzzle piece whose origins go back to 1963, when it was created by Gerald Gasson, a parent and board member for the National Autistic Society (formerly The Society for Autistic Children) in London. The puzzle piece was chosen because the board believed autistic people suffered from a “puzzling” condition.

There are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The first, Autistic Disorder (also called “classic” autism), is what most people think of when hearing the word “autism.”

People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.

The second type, Asperger Syndrome, includes people with milder symptoms of autistic disorder.  They might have social challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However, they typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.

The third type, Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS; also called “atypical autism”), includes people who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome, but not all.

People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges.

As part of a well-baby or well-child visit, your child’s doctor should perform a “developmental screening,” asking specific questions about your baby’s progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that warrant further evaluation:

•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 on his or her own by 24 months

•Has any loss of any language or social skill at any age

If your child displays any of these five “red flags,” that does not mean your child has autism. But because the disorder’s symptoms vary so widely, a child showing these behaviors should be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team.

If you have concerns about your child’s development, please contact the Help Me Grow Facilitator at www.helpmegrowmn.org; 1-866-693-GROW (4769) or the Austin Community Learning Center at 507-460-1705.