Today, 12 April 2019, marks World Autism Awareness Day. During the month of April events take place all over the world and in South Africa to develop understanding and acceptance of autism. Autism SA aims to raise awareness and acceptance of autism as a different way of thinking and not as a disorder (see Autism SA guidelines for how to create and accept awareness of autism at www.auttoknow.co.za). Embracing a different way of thinking will be to the benefit of society.
Prevalence of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
The results of epidemiological studies conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over the past 50 years show that the prevalence of autism is increasing globally. The WHO estimated in 2017 that on average one in 160 children presents with ASD but that the prevalence of ASD in many low- and middle-income countries is unknown. The Centre of Disease Control in the USA estimated in 2018 that 1 in 59 children are affected by ASD.
What is ASD?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is regarded as a broad range of conditions which are characterized by challenges with aspects such as social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication (www.autism speaks.org). In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association amalgamated four distinctive autism diagnoses into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified – and Asperger syndrome. Each person with autism has a distinctive set of strengths and challenges across the spectrum. Not one person is the same and the level of support may differentiate between moderate and intensive.
What can we do as professionals?
- Knowledge to be able to recognise the early signs of autisms. Early behavioural intervention improves social skills, learning, and communication.
- Knowledge of where to find the necessary services, support and treatment will also be helpful to parents and teachers.
- Advocacy to prevent human rights violations and discrimination.
One of the best websites to visit for various sources of information about autism is https://www.autismspeaks.org. Some wonderful tool kits are available on https://www.autismspeaks.org/tool-kit for psychologists and other professionals to gain knowledge about autism. These toolkits have been developed for specific audiences, particular age ranges, and levels of support from moderate to intensive. Several parent training guides for parents of children with autism. Another good resource is the safety training guides for schools. This website also provides the newest research available on ASD.
Searching for autism on the web is a daunting prospect. You will find many examples of the top autism websites on http://www.readingrockets.org/article/top-autism-organizations-and-web-resources