Did you know that April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day & that April is World Autism Month. For more than a decade, April 2nd has marked a special day to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The United Nations in 2007 proclaimed April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day but it also became a day to start a global conversation about autism. The goal is to raise awareness and understand more about autism across the world. April is also considered World Autism Month.
In light of this, we'd like to present 4 things that everyone should know about autism:
1. Autism is not a mental illness, a mental health condition or a learning disability
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by impaired verbal and social communication; rigid, restrictive and repetitive behaviours; uneven intellectual development; sensitivity to sensory input; challenges with fine and gross motor skills; and gastrointestinal difficulties, among other characteristics.
Autism is more accurately referred to as ‘autism spectrum disorder’ (ASD) because each person on the spectrum can exhibit a differing array of these characteristics and with wide ranging severity. There’s a favourite saying in the autism community: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.”
2. The rate of autism in Canada is not yet fully known, but we have recent estimates
Canadian media reports often cite autism rates from the United States. Research from the U.S. Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 1 in 68 children in America has ASD. Since autism is five times more prevalent in boys than girls, they estimate 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls has ASD in the U.S. The best estimate in Canada is that ASD effects 1 in 94 children, according to The National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada (NEDSAC).
3. Families can often wait several years to access autism services covered by the public healthcare system. Government support for such services are widely uneven across the country.
It is not uncommon for families to wait several years to receive a diagnosis of autism for their child from publicly funded health services in most provinces. And once a child is diagnosed, interventions with a strong evidence base, such as behavioural therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy, have wait times of several months up to several years in most places across the country. Once services are received, families have access to these therapies for only limited time periods and often beyond the window of time that most experts believe optimal. We are lucky in the west coast as support for autism is more readily available and/or more flexible in BC and Alberta.
4. Is it best to say a ‘person with autism’ or ‘autistic’?
In terms of referring to individuals with diverse abilities, we always want to encourage people to speak in a way where the disability does not define the individual. So, in this case, that would mean say a "person with autism". Similarly, many families prefer the descriptor, ‘someone with autism’ since the individual is greater than their diagnosis. Better still, refer to individuals by name.
Community Ventures Society supports individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. We understand the ups and downs of autism and feel like we are constantly learning about individuals on the spectrum. CVS is in its 40th year of operation and to this day we feel like are still learning and evolving. It has been a wonderful journey and we've been able to meet and support so many individuals and families.
Keep an eye out through the month of April for more information on autism and don't forget to share what you hear from us at CVS with individuals throughout your own network!