Since the 1970s, April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month in the United States.  During this period, this condition has been addressed by numerous offices and organizations including the President of the United States, the U.S. Congress, the Autism Society and many other community groups. In his April 2, 2014, proclamation, President Barack Obama addressed the issue of autism: “By unlocking new knowledge of the brain, we can pave the way for myriad medical breakthroughs, including a greater appreciation for the science of autism.”

Autism is a congenital affliction that presents in children from an early age with limited verbal abilities, unwillingness to make eye contact, and underdeveloped social skills. While autism remains a mystery in many ways, research has shown that this developmental disorder is rooted in abnormalities in the brain’s structure.  There may be multiple causes for autism, both genetic and environmental.  Families that have members with autism are statistically more likely to have children with the condition.  Also certain environmental toxins, like mercury, when present during pregnancy may contribute to the appearance of autism in newborns.

In recent years, autism has become a more commonly diagnosed condition, contributing to a statistical increase.  Currently, about one percent of children aged three to 17 have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, with about 1.5 million cases in the U.S. The probability a child will be born with ASD is about one in 68 births, but autism is increasing in likelihood at about 1.148 percent, making it one of the fastest growing developmental disabilities in the world. It is unknown why this particular affliction is becoming more prevalent.

Groups like the Autism Society are working towards understanding this dreaded condition, informing parents about potential risk factors and developing a cure or vaccine. Research has already produced a number of treatment models which can dramatically improve the quality of life for those suffering from ASD.  With early diagnosis and medical intervention, autistic children can achieve a high level of independence and functionality.

During Autism Awareness Month, many of the most important research advances have been spotlighted.  Among these include the use of whole genome sequencing to help diagnosis ASD, identification of the earliest signs of autism, the role of prenatal folic acid in reducing risk for ASD, and the discovery of genetic markers which may predict a high risk of autism.  While millions of dollars are being devoted to understanding and combating this ailment, you may be able to help support these research and treatment efforts by contacting organizations like Autism Tissue Program, Autism Clinical Trials Network, and Interactive Autism Network.