The United Nations has designated today World Autism Awareness Day, which speaks volumes to the growing, worldwide concern for the autism epidemic. There are only two other health-related World Day events, for diabetes and AIDS. April is also National Autism Awareness Month.
It is often asked why autism is getting so much attention now. Some compare the autism threat to the polio epidemic in the 1950s. Studies by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that the prevalence of autism-spectrum disorders has significantly increased, from approximately four in 10,000 in the early 1990s to as many as one in every 150 births today. Despite increasing national interest and strikingly high prevalence, autism research remains one of the lowest-funded areas of medical research by both public and private sources.
What is autism?
According to Autism Speaks, “Autism is a complex brain disorder that often inhibits a person’s ability to communicate, respond to surroundings, and form relationships with others. First identified more than 50 years ago, autism is typically diagnosed by the age of two or three. Autism affects people of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Few disorders are as devastating to a child and his or her family. While some people with autism are mildly affected, most people with the condition will require lifelong supervision and care and have significant language impairments. Many children with autism will never be able to tell their parents they love them.”
Currently, the causes of autism are unknown and there are no specific medical treatments or cure. Physicians have no blood test or diagnostic scan that can definitively diagnose the disorder. The diagnosis of autism is based solely upon observations of behavior. Some, but not all, people with autism are non-verbal. The degree of autism varies from mild to severe in different individuals. The causes of autism are not yet understood. It is widely believed within the scientific community, however, that there is a strong genetic component or predisposition to autism-spectrum disorders. Researchers have suggested that the immunological, metabolic and environmental factors may also play a part in the causes of autism.
Facts about autism from Autism Speaks
- 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism.
- 67 children are diagnosed per day.
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.
- Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
- Autism costs the nation over $35 billion per year, a figure expected to double in the next decade. Autism receives less than 5 percent of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases.
- Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism.
- There is no medical detection or cure for autism.
Incidence vs. private funding
- Leukemia affects 1 in 25,000. Funding: $310 million
- Muscular dystrophy affects 1 in 20,000. Funding: $175 million
- Pediatric AIDS affects 1 in 8,000. Funding: $394 million
- Juvenile diabetes affects 1 in 500. Funding: $130 million
- Autism affects 1 in 150. Funding: $42 million
National Institutes of Health funds allocation
- Total 2007 NIH budget: $29 billion
- Of this, $80 million goes directly to autism research. This represents 0.28% of total NIH funding. (According to Autism Speaks’ review, only 63% of the $127 million of the NIH’s autism-related spending in 2007 was on direct autism spending).
What Is Autism Speaks?
“At Autism Speaks, our goal is to change the future for all who struggle with autism-spectrum disorders.
We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. We are committed to raising the funds necessary to support these goals.
Autism Speaks aims to bring the autism community together as one strong voice to urge the government and private sector to listen to our concerns and take action to address this urgent global health crisis. It is our firm belief that, working together, we will find the missing pieces of the puzzle.”
For more information, visit www.autismspeaks.org.
Why is this article on a Clay Aiken board? Well, that is an easy question to answer. Clay has been a champion for all children with disabilities. For almost 10 years, Clay has worked in a hands-on way to help Autistic children and their families. He taught a classroom of autistic children and worked one-on-one with Michael Bubel, an autistic young man who helped change the path of Clay’s life.
Thank you, Clay, for opening our minds and hearts to the struggle of families affected by Autism. We have learned so much.