According to the CDC, 1 in 68 children have some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Because autism is a spectrum, not all with the disorder experience it in the same way. Living with autism can be very challenging for families, so in order to support them and advocate for more research, April 2 has been named World Autism Awareness Day.
Autism Speaks, one of the largest autism advocacy organizations in the world, created the Light It Up Blue campaign. They're asking everyone to wear blue and take a selfie with a sign pledging support for autism awareness.
Here, let Bill Nye the Science Guy show you how it’s done:
Speaking of science, here are four fast facts about autism:
Fact 1: Vaccines absolutely do not cause autism.
This myth began in 1998 when a man named Andrew Wakefield published a study claiming to have found a correlation between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism. No scientists were ever able to replicate his results, and it eventually came to light that he made up the data because of a personal financial interest. This gross misconduct caused his paper to be retracted and even his medical license to be taken away. There are still people who claim vaccines cause autism, but there is absolutely no sound scientific evidence to support it.
Fact 2: Autism is believed to be caused by a number of genetic and environmental factors.
In the fall of 2014, a huge study involving researchers from over 50 institutions was published in Nature. The researchers were able to find that mutations in over 100 genes had a connection to the onset of behaviors associated with autism. Other research has found that siblings of children with autism are also more likely to develop the disorder.
It is also believed that a variety of environmental factors such as the mother's prenatal diet and pollution also play a role by changing the way genes are expressed. When looking in retrospect, researchers from the University of California, San Diego were able to identify environmental and genetic anomalies as early as the second trimester of pregnancy.
Fact 3: No two individuals with autism are the same.
Some individuals with autism have extreme learning disabilities, while some have savant talents in a variety of subjects. Some are very emotional and express their feelings well, while others aren't as forthcoming. It might seem silly to even need to bring it up, but personalities and behaviors of those with autism cannot be lumped together, no easier than neurotypical individuals could be stereotyped into one set way of acting or living.
While an August 2014 study from Columbia University found that people with autism generally have more synapses in their brains, a January 2015 study from Carnegie Mellon discovered that brains of autistic individuals aren't just wired differently from those who are neurotypical, they're also wired very differently from others with autism.
Fact 4: Autism cannot be cured, but it can be treated.
Every now and again, someone will claim to have cured autism through diet, therapy, or a combination of techniques. It is currently not possible to cure autism. However, early intervention can alleviate many symptoms and make the disorder easier to live with. Medications may balance out emotional extremes and inattentiveness, while different forms of therapy might help correct behavior, learning, or speech delays that might exist. Because every person with autism experiences it differently, the treatment needs to be highly individualized, and what worked for one person could easily not work for someone else.
Fact 5: There is not yet a definitive test for autism.
While there are genetic components to autism as well as physical differences in the brain, there is not currently a way to diagnose the disorder based on those physical traits, or through something like a blood test. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, diagnoses are made based on missed developmental milestones and screenings by a team of professionals in different fields, who are all looking for certain characteristics. However, this process is slightly open to interpretation and can lead to some confusion.
While research is ongoing to create physical tests with irrefutable numbers to diagnose and quantify the severity of autism (like other results of biological tests), it's likely not going to be available anytime soon.