April is Autism Awareness Month and to do our part, Hospitality Health ER wants to help make our community more aware about autism and challenge some misconceptions.

More than 3.5 million Americans are living with autism spectrum disorder. In Texas alone, there are 500,000 people living with autism. Although much is still unknown about autism, scientists have made great progress over the past five years. They have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism.

Unless you have a family member or friend with autism, you may not be that familiar with the facts about it. Here are some things you should know.

Clearing Misconceptions About Autism:

  • There is no one cause of autism. Research is pointing to a combination of risk genes and environmental factors as the possible cause.
  • Features and abilities can vary significantly from person to person hence the term “autism spectrum”. Autism spectrum disorder affects people differently and to varying degrees.
  • Autism is not a psychological disorder but a complex neurodevelopmental disorder.

People with autism may display some or all of these characteristics:

  • Difficulty understanding language, gestures and/or social cues
  • Limited or no speech
  • When there is speech, it can be repetitive or relate primarily to one particular topic
  • Limited or no eye contact
  • Difficulty participating in back-and-forth conversations or interactions
  • Social awkwardness
  • Intense interest in unusual topics or objects
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as pacing or lining things up, spinning, hand flapping or rocking
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, smell, taste or touch
  • Abnormal fears and/or lack of appropriate fear for real dangers
  • Difficulty managing transitions, changes in routine, stress and frustration
  • Strong visual skills
  • Good rote learning and long-term memory skills (math facts, sports statistics, etc.)
  • Adherence to the rules
  • Honesty
  • Intense concentration or focus, especially on a favorite activity
  • Ability to understand and retain concrete concepts and patterns
  • Strong interest and/or ability in mathematics, technology, music and art

Tips for Communication with People with Autism

  • Speak calmly
  • Use direct, concrete phrases
  • Instructions should contain no more than two steps
  • Allow extra time for the person to respond
  • Avoid using figurative language
  • Minimize touching. If necessary, gesture or gently guide the person
  • Be prepared for outbursts or unexplained behavior. If the person is not harming themselves or others, just wait for these behaviors to subside

For more information on childhood development topics, read our blog on Terrible Twos or Discipline at Different Ages.