Frontline Initiative Autism Spectrum Disorder

Illuminate! Advocate! It's Autism Awareness Month


Robin Hickey has over 30 years of experience working in the developmental disabilities field. Ms. Hickey is also the parent of a son who has autism and other developmental disabilities.

Tom Harmon serves as a FI Editorial Board member

The sixth annual World Autism Awareness Day is April 2, 2013. Autism organizations across the globe honor the day with programs and events to raise awareness about autism. Many places participate in the Light It Up Blue campaign and shine a bright blue spotlight to illuminate and advocate for autism.

The word autism comes from the Greek word autos, which means ‘self’. It was first used in the early 20th Century to describe people that seemed to be extremely isolated from other people. People that seemed to be in their own worlds.

Autism is a developmental disability. Its symptoms appear before age 3. The symptoms affect many different skills that develop from infancy to adulthood.

Autism is complex. You may have heard the expression: If you meet one person with autism; you’ve met one person with autism. This means that no two individuals experience autism in the same way.

Autism is a spectrum disorder. Spectrum means that people with an autism diagnosis have a wide range of characteristics and levels of ability. One person with autism may have mild characteristics while another person’s may be severe. Sometimes people with mild symptoms are informally referred to as higher functioning though this is not a universally accepted term in the autism community. Individuals with autism experience various levels of challenges in three areas —

  • Communication — both verbal and non-verbal.
  • Social interactions — such as difficulty in sharing feelings, understanding others’ feelings, or holding a conversation.
  • Behaviors/routines — such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines and schedules, and showing stereotyped or ‘stimming’ behaviors.

People with autism often have a co-occurring health condition. Common secondary conditions include sleep challenges, intellectual disabilities, seizures or anxiety disorders. People with autism also may have sensory issues. This may include over- or under-reacting to sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes.

The cause(s) of autism are unknown. Some researchers suggest a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A range of therapies and interventions may help manage the characteristics of autism though there is currently no known cure.

Current statistics indicate that 1 in 88 children have an autism diagnosis and that autism is 4 to 5 times more likely to occur in boys than girls. These rates suggest that autism is on the rise. However researchers do not agree about reasons why. One theory is that autism is simply more prevalent now than in the past. Another theory is that pediatricians, families and educators are more aware of what autism is. Recognition of the early signs of autism may lead to increased diagnoses.

There are many places Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) can go for more information about autism. However, not all information is credible and reliable, particularly information online. One organization’s website that is trustworthy is Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. Autism Speaks is considered a very reputable source of information specific to autism. Here you can find facts about autism, current research projects and resources for families impacted by autism. You can also find resources specific to your state and zip code. Some of the resources provided include supports for adults with autism and legal information.

Gather information and share resources with the people and families you support. Keep in mind that every individual has different needs, interests, challenges and strengths. What might not work for one person might work very well for another. Celebrate the unique joys and accomplishments that people with autism have to offer!