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Raising Awareness for World Autism Month

Every April, the world comes together to celebrate World Autism Awareness Month. The Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) at University of Utah Health is dedicated to raising awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the variety of challenges that people with ASD face in their lives.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disability that impairs social communication or interaction and leads to narrow, restricted interests, like fixation on certain topics or objects, and repetitive behaviors, such as repeating words or repeating body movements, that don't seem to have a purpose. Autism is known as a spectrum disorder because of the wide range of symptom severity that people can experience. Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can include:

  • lack of eye contact
  • difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships
  • difficulty with back-and-forth conversations
  • inability to understand other people's actions or points of view
  • delayed language
  • a limited range of interests
  • very intense interests in certain topics, such as numbers or facts
  • repetitive actions that don't have a purpose, and unusual responses to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, and movement

Autism prevalence among 8-year-old Utah children has risen by nearly 30 percent in less than a decade, according to a new study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Utah's autism prevalence is significantly higher now than when we last measured it,” says Deborah Bilder, MD, a co-author of the study and a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and pediatrics at HMHI. “I believe Utah legislation passed over the last decade has had a substantial positive impact on children's access to autism diagnostic and treatment services,” Bilder says.

Practices that improve equitable access to early ASD identification and services are a vital step forward. “That's why these studies are so important,” says Amanda Bakian, PhD. “They not only help us get a better idea of the growing prevalence of autism but can also help us improve policies, services, and research directed toward helping children and their families affected by autism.”

Moving from “Awareness” to Acceptance and Inclusion  

Many organizations, such as the Autism Society, have renamed April “Autism Acceptance” month. This change shifts the conversation to one that emphasizes the inclusion and belonging of autistic people. Autism acceptance emphasizes that autistic people deserve welcoming communities, inclusive workplaces and schools, and equal opportunities. It also encourages us to celebrate autistic individuals just as they are and learn to be more accommodating to their behaviors and needs. There are many things we can all do to be more accepting and inclusive of autistic children and adults, including some of the following:

  • Educate your school-aged children about autism
  • Focus on the strengths of an autistic individual
  • Use appropriate language
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for individuals with autism to be included 

It is critical that as we learn more about autism, we also recognize the many contributions people with autism bring to our lives, educate others, and advocate for more inclusivity. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatment

HMHI cares for patients of all ages with neurodevelopmental disabilities at all stages of their disorder. HMHI's Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinic works with children, adolescents, adults, and their families across the continuum of care to research, understand, and improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Our clinics and programs have been developing incredible research into autism prevalence among Utah children. To learn more about autism spectrum disorder, please visit our clinic website.

Other Resources

Autism Speaks - Autism Speaks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing research into causes and treatments for autism spectrum disorders. They also promote increased understanding and acceptance of people on the autism spectrum.

The Autism Society - The Autism Society is a nonprofit organization focused on raising public awareness about the issues and challenges that people on the autism spectrum face.

The Path Forward

HMHI is aiming for a future that maximizes our understanding of autism, while providing resources and a loving and accepting community. If we work together to build empathetic and safe spaces, we can create a world that gives people with autism a more fulfilling life. Awareness and acceptance of autism is an incredibly important project, and it begins with understanding and compassion.