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April is Autism Awareness Month


Specializes in Nurse Health Writer / Author. Has 15 years experience.

What is Autism?

April 1-30 is national Autism Awareness month. This article will describe what autism is, statistics about autism, treatment, resources, an

April is Autism Awareness Month

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is defined as a complex developmental disability; signs typically appear during early childhood and affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Autism affects more children now than ever before. Current statistics tell us that one in every 68 children in America has a form of autism.

ASD has a set of behaviors that differ from child to child in their severity, hence the term "spectrum condition" as many folks have heard. To be on the spectrum of autism, the child will go through a set of tests to determine if they have the disorder.

Autism is a lifelong condition, with currently no cure. It is also one of the fastest growing, least funded developmental disorders.

Behaviors of Autism

With the varying degrees of the spectrum disorder, some behaviors are noted to be specific of autistic children. These include:

  • Delayed learning of language
  • Does not make eye contact
  • Does not converse
  • Poor motor, fine and gross skills
  • Sensitive to sensory (noise or light)
  • Has difficulty reasoning, planning
  • Intense interest in certain things
  • Will not make-believe play

Though these behaviors are seen in autism, they do not define an autistic child. The diagnosis of the autism spectrum disorder is based on the complete analysis or behaviors and severity of them.

After childhood, autism may present other hurdles as the child enters their teenage years. Parents often see their teen experiencing seizures, sleep problems, and anxiety, however, symptoms differ in each child with the severity of their diagnosis.

As the transition into adulthood comes, parents must help their teen focus on skills of safety, hygiene, employment, social competence, decision-making, self-management, leisure, and communication, which tend to be a struggle as the teen matures.

Employment for adults with mild autism is available and highlighted across the nation. The programs available help autistic people develop their strengths as paid employees.

Cause of Autism

Presently, there has not been a clear cause for autism. Nothing has been proven to cause autism including genetic factors and vaccines.

Treatment for Autism

Even though there is not a cure for autism, with appropriate early diagnosis and intervention there are improved outcomes. There are supportive services available for that child. There is no cure for autism, mainly because they don't know the cause of autism. Behavior therapy is part of the early interventions for the child. Medications are also an option to help control the symptoms.

A very small percentage of children reach "Best Outcome" status on the autism spectrum. This means that the child may have matured out of the autism symptoms, interventions were successful enough that the child does not have difficulties with IQ, language, or social interaction.

As the autistic child grows, there are some things parents can do to help them succeed in life, more independently. This begins with learning skills for daily living. Daily living skills like hygiene techniques, taking medications, housekeeping, food preparations are some things children do not learn in schools. These are things that autistic children need help with to transition into an independent adulthood.

Looking to the future of an autistic child, parents should plan and focus on what helps their child thrive, and building upon those strengths. Some children are able to transition to college and the workforce, others need more care at home. The spectrum is wide, and the behaviors differ from person to person.


The cost of autism is one reason it has come into the light of the government. As mentioned earlier, early intervention helps with outcomes, but the cost can be high. In June 2014, researchers estimated the cost of caring for a child with autism is as high as $2.4 million over a lifetime. The estimated cost for the United States to care for autism is $90 billion a year.

Timeline of Autism

Treatment options, resources, and prevalence are why autism has been in national spotlight now more than ever. Autism has been part of history for over 70 years.

Here is a quick timeline of autism over the last 70 years

1908 Autism was a word used to describe schizophrenia patients.

1943 Leo Kanner, M.D., a child psychologist wrote and published a paper depicting children who were very smart but desired to be alone. Their condition was labeled "early infantile autism".

1944 Hans Asperger, a German scientist, described a syndrome now known as Asperger's Syndrome.

1967 Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim coined the theory that "refrigerator mothers" did not love their children enough, therefore, they caused autism. This is completely false, but many did believe it.

1977 Twins were used in research, but it helped and it showed that autism is mainly caused by genetics and biological differences in brain development.

1980 "Infantile autism" was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a condition to separate from the diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia.

1987 "autism disorder," replaced "infantile autism", along with an added checklist. Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D., was the first to do a study on early interventions and the positive outcomes.

1988 Rain Man, a movie about an autistic person helped shed light on the disorder publicly.

1991 Special education for autistic children was added to the federal government's funding.

1994 Asperger's Syndrome is added to the DSM, this helped grow the spectrum of autism, allowing more children specialized education.

1998 A study published in The Lancet mentioned that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism. This was quickly proven wrong.

2000 Vaccine manufacturers remove thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) from childhood vaccines to help the public's fear, though the vaccine and autism link have not been proven to be connected to vaccines.

2013 The autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has more than two disorders now. Asperger's Syndrome is a syndrome, but not a condition separately.There are two categories: impaired social communication and/or interaction and restricted and/or repetitive behaviors.

What nurses can do?

As a nurse in a hospital setting, you may not have the opportunity to screen for autism. The job of the nurse never stops. A caring heart goes beyond the hospital walls. If early intervention is the key to success in the children who have autism, nurses should learn to know the signs of autism in children. Starting early intervention can lead to more opportunities and a higher quality of life. Early intervention specialists help incorporate new behavior and tactics to help redirect inappropriate behaviors or actions.

Nurses help others and care for others. Nurses can aid in helping parents notice the signs of autism. School nurses, most importantly, can note the symptoms of autism and collaborate with the teacher to get the child tested. Noticing that a child has signs of autism and to advocate for the child will help that child in life. Sometimes nurses have to step in and be available for patients for resources. Giving resources and referrals can aid in getting the child help.


Autism Spectrum Disorder

Janine has been an RN since 2006, specializing in labor and delivery. She ventured into writing in 2012. She still works in the hospital. She, her husband, and two boys reside in Cleveland, Ohio.

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5 Comment(s)


Specializes in LTC.

Interesting and informative reading, esp for those of us who don't deal with children. TY for posting.

Not meaning to hijack the post, but April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

poppycat, ADN, BSN

Specializes in pediatrics; PICU; NICU. Has 43 years experience.

My daughter is on the spectrum & is finishing her last 3 classes for a Master's in addiction counseling.


Specializes in CICU, Telemetry. Has 7 years experience.

I'm a nurse on the spectrum

People don't believe I could possibly be autistic because the diagnostic criteria are predominately based on male symptoms. So very few know the differences, or even that there are differences. Females are diagnosed at alarmingly low rates, have later ages at diagnosis, and receive fewer services.


Specializes in LTC.

CCU BSN RN said:
I'm a nurse on the spectrum

People don't believe I could possibly be autistic because the diagnostic criteria are predominately based on male symptoms. So very few know the differences, or even that there are differences. Females are diagnosed at alarmingly low rates, have later ages at diagnosis, and receive fewer services.

Sons are still more highly prized than daughters, y'a think? Sad to think so in this day & age.

Sorry! Didn't mean to pontificate on this thread.