Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or Autism, is a neurological condition that affects how the brain functions. The result is that most individuals experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. The way Autism affects an individual can vary a lot from person to person. It is a “spectrum” disorder because each person with autism is unique. The support needs of individuals with autism may also range from none to very substantial.
A person on the Autism spectrum may have cognitive impairment or an intellectual disability-however, it is worth noting that nearly half of all children on the spectrum are of average or above-average intelligence. ASD is typically accompanied by co-occurring medical conditions such as epilepsy, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal (gut) abnormalities and immune dysregulation. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression are common. Any of these conditions may severely impact an individual’s quality of life.
Sensory issues are extremely common. People on the spectrum may be hyper- or hypo-sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, touch and/or taste. For example, loud noises, bright lights, scratchy clothes, or certain textures can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. Autistic people might also have an unusually high tolerance for pain, which can be extremely dangerous.
Autism is usually first diagnosed in childhood with many of the most-obvious signs presenting around 2-3 years old. According to the 2018 Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Autism Spectrum Disorders Surveillance System (NASS) report, approximately 1 in 66 Canadian children and youth are diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum, with boys diagnosed four to five times more frequently than girls are.
In the greater Edmonton area, it is estimated that over 22,000 families are directly affected by Autism.
Autism is a complex life-long condition that affects not only the individual, but also their families, caregivers, and communities.