Understanding Autism

Photo credit: Nick Youngson, NYPhotographic.com

Many of us have been directly affected by autism, or at least we know someone who has been affected. In fact, the prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4% from 2000 to 2010, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability. In the U.S., autism affects a staggering 1 in 68 births. Of those, it affects 1 in 42 boys and only 1 in 189 girls, making it a much more male-dominant condition. Autism is truly an epidemic, and it deserves our attention.

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is defined by Autism Speaks as, “a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.” There isn’t just one type of autism, which is why we use the word “spectrum.” It is often accompanied by gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and phobias.

There is no clear cause or cure for autism, but the earlier it is identified and addressed, the better. Most signs tend to start popping up between two and three years of age, but in some cases it can be diagnosed even earlier. Early intervention improves outcomes, so it’s extremely beneficial to get a diagnosis at a young age. Most interventions are therapy-based, though some do include pharmaceutical medications or alternative medicine. Therapy is extremely expensive, and a lot of families simply can’t afford it.

Autism’s prevalence has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. So, chances are high that at some point, your life will be touched by autism. But even if you are never personally affected, it’s important to be informed about what autism is, the impact it has, and ways that you can help. Empathy and compassion are our most valuable tools in this world, and you’d be surprised what they can accomplish.

Impact Academy is a nonprofit school for children with special needs. Colette Stibich and Kathy Gross are the owners of Impact, and they both have children on the spectrum. They have locations in Seffner and South Tampa. Because they are nonprofit, they are always looking for help.


The Autism Society is a nonprofit organization that works to aid individuals and families affected by autism. Donations support autism education, awareness, advocacy and research.

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