HELENA – Monday marked the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1-in-68 children from the ages of six to 17 in the United States have been identified with autism spectrum disorder.
Montana has a lower number of children diagnosed than the national average with about 0.4% of Montanans diagnosed, but autism still affects thousands of Montana families.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction, communication, language impairment, and often repetitive behaviors.
Director of Community Services at Intermountain Steffani Turner, LSCSW said that since autism is a spectrum disorder, it can be difficult for people to understand what it means to be autistic.
People with autism can have a large variety of symptoms and no two cases are identical. “It’s like pieces of a puzzle,” Turner said. “Some have more than others.”
Turner added that high-functioning autistics are capable of leading fulfilling lives and can have successful jobs as adults.
There is no “cure” for autism, but there are many treatments available but medication, sensory treatments, behavioral analysis, and occupational therapy have all shown success.
Turner said that with all behavioral disorders, it is best to speak to a medical professional about treatment.
Intermountain staff said that being a parent of an autistic child can be intimidating at first but getting informed is the best thing a person can do.
Turner added that if a parent may suspect their child to be autistic, it’s a good idea get them tested. “Early intervention and detection is incredibly important to helping children on the spectrum to thrive and grow as they get older,” Turner said.
Turner said a parent can expect a lifelong journey of constantly learning about their child and helping others understand their child.