Autism Awareness Month Kicks off With Distressing News about Autism Rate and Cost

Autism spectrum disorders, World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks
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Every April 2nd is set aside for World Autism Awareness Day, a day where leading autism organizations around the world promote awareness-raising events such as the second annual “Light it Up Blue” celebration by Autism Speaks. The new statistics about autism prevalence and the cost of treatment seems discouraging, but there is a lot that you can do to help.

Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASD, are complex developmental disabilities that include social interaction difficulties, including communication. Autism is considered a wide-spectrum disorder, meaning that no two people have exactly the same symptoms. Those affected may also have restricted or repetitive behavior patterns, physical tics, and obsessions. These behaviors present themselves within the first three years of a person’s life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the rate of autism in children has increased from 1 in 150 to 1 in 88 in the United States. This represents an increase of 78% since 2002. These estimates are based on surveillance reports from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

The disorder affects five times more boys than girls. The CDC estimates that about one in 45 boys has an autism spectrum disorder while the rate among girls is one in 252. Utah has the highest figures at one in 47 and there are alarming increases among black and Hispanic children.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, says that the increase in the number of ASD cases could be the result of how the disorders are diagnosed. “We're more inclusive,” says Dr. James McPartland of the American Psychiatric Association. “We include people with more cognitive ability and less severe problems then we have in the past.”

With an increase in diagnoses, the cost that society incurs has also risen substantially. Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, has announced that the cost for providing care for people with autism has reached $137 billion per year in the United States. In the UK, the annual cost is 34 billion pounds – equal to $54 billion US.

Intellectual disability plays a major role in the cost of autism. Those with children that have deficits in this area pay nearly twice as much on average for those without intellectual disability. It is estimated that 45% of individuals with ASD in the US have an IQ of 70 or less.

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The costs were compiled by researchers Martin Knapp PhD of the London School of Economics and David Mandell ScD of the University of Pennsylvania. Multiple sources were used to calculate the costs and were reported last week at the international conference “Investing in our Future: The Economic Costs of Autism.”

Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, said, "Autism is a global public health crisis. The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase. We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the U.S. and governments around the world step up their commitment to helping people living with autism today. The investment we make now is essential to reducing the long-term costs of autism."

Although many children today are diagnosed by age 3, Coleen Boyle PhD MSHyg, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities says that 40% are not diagnosed until after age 4. Early detection and intervention is critical for optimal outcomes for children with an ASD. The Easter Seals Disability Services has launched the “Make the First Five Count” campaign, advocacy designed to get children at risk of developmental delays the right support they need to be school-ready and to build a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, says that it is “clearly time, as a caring society, to commit to a National Strategy” that would include:
• Funding more basic science uncovering the genetic underpinnings of autism.
• Funding more environmental research detecting the causes of autism.
• Accelerating the funding and development of effective medicines and treatments.
• Committing to a strategy where all children with autism from every background are diagnosed no later than 18 months of age.
• Committing to a National Training Corps recruiting more therapists and service providers as well as specially trained teachers and teacher assistants into the field.
• We also need to address the growing issue of adults with autism specifically around continuing education, employment, housing/residential living and community integration. Here too, we need a focus on a National Training Corps to recruit and train professionals to work with our adults.

So what can we do on a local level to promote awareness and opportunities for people with autism? You can “Light it Up Blue” by trading out your white porch lights for the “Autism Speaks Light It Up Blue Defiant products” sold at Home Depot. One dollar of each one purchased, up to $200,000, will benefit Autism Speaks. Last year, over 2,000 buildings and landmarks across the globe illuminated in bright blue on the evenings of April 1 and April 2.

WalMart will sell the ICE Block Cooler that will feature a cool blue glow when the power is turned on. This cooler is filled with a thermal freezing gel that will keep any common beverage cold. The product was chosen for the WalMart “Get on the Shelf” contest to support Autism Awareness.

CafePress offers a variety of Autism Awareness Merchandise items that can be purchased with proceeds going to autism charities. An amount equal to 10% of the final purchase price for all products tagged with "autismawareness2012" and sold through CafePress.com Marketplace during April 1, 2012 through April 30, 2012 will be donated. Charities chosen for the donation will be chosen by the community through a poll located at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/NG6CGSG.

Another simple step you can take is to find the World Autism Awareness Day page on Facebook, “Like” it, and share with your friends to promote awareness of all of the Autism Month activities planned for April 2012.

*"Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 13 Sites, United States, 2008." March 30, 2012 / 61(SSo3); 1-19. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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