Autism Explained


Autism affects you more than you probably think. With the condition being increasingly diagnosed, with 1 in 68 babies having the condition. And with celebrities such as Toni Braxton and Holly Robinson Peete speaking out about their experiences having an autistic child and raising autism awareness independently and with organizations such as Autism Speaks, you have probably heard a lot about autism.

Autism: what you should know

Autism has become a major topic of discussion and of controversy. The root causes of autism have been attributed to conditions ranging from the mother’s health to the environment into which the baby is born. These discussions highlight the limited information that we have on this increasingly widespread condition. According to the Centers for Disease control, autism now affects 1 in 68 children born. These children will fall on what has been termed the “ Autism Spectrum”, a ubiquitous term that encompasses all manifestations of autism as no two children experiences and exhibits the same symptoms. The wide range of autistic symptoms calls for a variety of responses from families once they become aware of their child’s diagnosis.

“About 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism”.

CDC 2015

What is Autism?

Autism is classified as a developmental disability that manifests itself in a variety of ways, however autism most readily affects an individuals capacity to communicate and is coupled with profound behavioral issues. A person’s appearance does not readily indicate whether that person is autistic. Mental capacities such as learning, thinking, and problem solving can range from extremely gifted to severely challenged in affected individuals. Adults and children living with autism may experience problems with socializing, being empathetic and emotional expression towards others. Autism is also considered to be a “severe” disability because of its lifelong effects on persons diagnosed with autism and their families as well”(National Research Council, 2001),

Can Autism be detected?

Currently there is no medical test that can detect autism. A psychological assessment of the adult or child’s behavior and cognitive development are required in order to make a preliminary or final diagnosis. After the age of two years old a doctor’s initial diagnosis of autism may be considered very reliable, any younger however, and the symptoms of autism may be confused with typical behaviors in very young children.

Is it treatable?

As of yet there is no treatment for autism spectrum disorders, although obtaining early intervention therapies is the best option to aid the individual in learning valuable speech, social and physical skills.

Based on official statistics from the Centers for Disease Control autism spectrum disorders occur in all socio economic, racial, and ethnic groups. There is a prevalent difference between genders however, with boys being diagnosed five times as frequently as girls. Despite autism’s widespread manifestation, African American children are among the most commonly affected. African American children will more readily encounter issues caused by late identification or misdiagnosis, and are twice as likely than their white peers to develop regressive forms of autism.

Challenges: Rate of Identification and Diagnoses

The first hurdle encountered by families who feel their child may have autism is typically their doctor. The majority of children are diagnosed with autism by four years old, while African American children are diagnosed up to two years later. Preventing many families from accessing early intervention services soon enough to be of benefit to their child. Early intervention can have astounding effects on halting the loss of speech and improving behavioral skills. These disparities in the early detection and the treatment of autism have only recently gained a significant amount of attention from researchers. Additionally, compounding the issue, African American children with autism are referred less frequently than their white counter parts to various specialists and therapists.

“ Black children were identified as having ASD later and were more likely to be diagnosed with a conduct disorder or adjustment disorder than were white children”

Mandell, D. S., Wiggins, L. al, (2009)

 Differences in Manifestation

Due to African American children being referred to specialists later, or their behavior being assessed as something other than autism, African American children with autism are twice as likely to have a more regressive form of autism than their white peers.

The prevalence of regressive autism is being investigated, to determine the disparity in its occurrence among children along racial lines. One likely answer that is being offered is that on average it takes more dramatic behavior from black children to be diagnosed with autism in the first place. This may explain why it is so often that African American children are being diagnosed more frequently but yet too late to salvage certain valuable skills. (Regressive Autism Reported Twice as Often among African American Children. 2014)


Although there are now studies being conducted that specifically target autism and its effects in children of color the overwhelming amount of information available in autism research has utilized data pulled exclusively from Caucasian children. Leaving multiple communities underrepresented in research, increasing the severity of the effects Autism spectrum disorders have on diagnosed children, their families and the community.

Tips for parents and families

1.Remember the best thing you can do is start treatment right away . Early intervention is the best way to ensure saving or improving speech and communication skills and aid in development

  1. Educate yourself about autism. The more you know about autism the more ready you will be to be an advocate for your child, in and outside of the doctors office.
  2. Accommodation. Learning to live with the presence of autism in your life and your child’s life is imperative. Utilize resources you have and find support through educators, families and local agencies.



Written first June 2015 


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