World Autism Month: Learn More to Support Young Children and Their Families

by Hedda Meadan-Kaplansky, PhD

Logo design for world autism month by Autism Speaks organization to increase understanding and acceptance
World Autism Month Logo, Open Source from AutismSpeaks.org

April is World Autism Month. This is an opportunity to learn more about autism spectrum disorder and how it impacts more than 70 million individuals around the world.  Once considered a rare disorder, current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 1 in every 59 children in the US have autism. Boys are diagnosed with autism four times more than girls and autism occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

Refrigerator Mother Theory

Many years ago, people used the term ‘refrigerator mother’ to describe parents of children with autism. The assumption was that autism was the result of cold and uncaring parenting. Today we know that there are different factors, including environmental, biological and genetic, that could make a child more likely to have autism. We now understand that…

Caregiver behavior does not cause autism

Like Rain Man or Sheldon, right?

In the past, when people heard the word ‘autism,’ they thought about the 1988 movie ‘Rain Man,’ starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant who had impressive math abilities.  More recently, people may think of Sheldon Cooper from the TV series, “The Big Bang Theory” who is also a math genius. However, it is important to know that autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts individuals differently. Each child with autism is unique and has both strengths and needs, similar to Julia, the new orange-haired, twinkly-eyed character in Sesame Street. It is a spectrum and Dr. Stephen Shore said:

If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism

“The More You Know”

We now know much more about autism including the early signs for autism, how to assess for autism at an early age, and effective strategies that support the development of children with autism. We also know that having a child with autism can impact every person in the family unit, including the parents, siblings, and extended family members. Therefore, as professionals we need to:

Support the child with autism AND the family

The 2019 MFLN FD Early Intervention webinar series, “Sunrise to Sunset: Supporting Children with Autism Through Their Day,” will focus on supporting young children with autism and their families.  The first webinar of the series will take place on April 10, 2019.  We will describe what autism is, at what age a child can be diagnosed with autism, and how professionals can support military and civilian families of children with autism.  To RSVP for our first webinar, “What Do We Know: Autism Screening, Diagnosis, & Supporting Young Children & Families,” click here.

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