5 Things You Didn't Know About Autism

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1) Autism is an "umbrella" termIf I had a dollar for every time someone said "You teach children with autism - that's like Rain Man!" I would be rich. The 1988 movie shed light on one person with autism but did not portray all people on the spectrum. People with autism display a variety of social, linguistic and behavioral characteristics, and it is impossible to list them all. Not all people with autism have "savant" skills, where they are exceptionally gifted in one area. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means people often present differently and, like all of us, do not fit into one mold.

2) Autism is expensiveSpeech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and instructional therapists can cost upwards of $125 an hour. Parents might not want to wait for paperwork from a school district to be completed for their child to start therapy. They may also know a provider they want their child to work with and may have to pay out of pocket to get that person in their home. A parent may want to try a therapy or treatment that is non-conventional. Between doctors' appointments, evaluations, therapies, special diets and supplements, autism can cost a lot of money.

3) Sexual development of children on the spectrum is often typical Despite delays in other areas, sexual development of children on the spectrum is often similar to that of their typically-developing peers. Children with autism feel the same urges and experience the same changes during puberty that all children do. The challenge for parents, educators and doctors is educating children about the changes their bodies are going through and preparing them for a healthy and safe lifestyle. This type of education is going on in classrooms and homes across the country - sometimes it takes a little creativity and preparation on the part of the caregivers.

4) It is not uncommon to have a condition secondary autism A child may have a primary diagnosis of autism, but also have another diagnosis of a separate disorder or condition. This is called comorbidity. Some examples of secondary diagnoses include, but are not limited to, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder or seizure disorders.

5) Parents' emotional health is at risk The biggest issue facing the autism community is the emotional health of the parents of people with the disorder. Autism can be financially and emotionally draining for the caregivers, often bringing stress to the home. Parents are running to and from doctors' appointments and meetings, spending hours researching treatments and therapies, and tending to their child's needs. If caregivers are stressed, the care is compromised. We need to pay more attention to the emotional health of those taking care of people with autism.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.