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Facts about Autism

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 7/21/2010

Autism presents significant challenges for affected individuals and their family members. Learn some of the most important facts about autism and arm yourself with the information needed to care for someone with this condition.

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    Autism is a severe developmental disorder that affects many parts of the brain and there is no cure.  The symptoms of autism start to appear in the second year of a child’s life. The ability for a child to be independent is dependent on how severe the case of autism is. In most children with autism, there is ongoing disability, and they are not able to live independently after reaching adulthood.


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    Autism and Epidemiology Facts

    In the United States, the prevalence of autism is 1 in 150 children. The prevalence rate of 1 in 150 is a very common disorder. One in 94 boys that are diagnosed with autism are on the autism spectrum (boys have a 4 times higher rate of developing autism). Amazingly, 67 children a day are diagnosed with autism. As a result of the high rate of autism in the United States population, diagnosis of autism in children is more prevalent in our population than diabetes and cancer in children combined. As a result, autism is the number one leading cause of developmental disability in children.


    Since autism has a high prevalence rate in the United States, over 35 billion dollars is spent on treating and diagnosing, personal care, and education. Even though a lot of money is spent on autism for everyday activities and healthcare, less than 5 percent of funding for research on children health conditions is spent on autism.


    People with autism have a normal life span and the condition affects all socioeconomic classes. Research indicates that the earlier the intervention, the better outcome. There is not known cause for autism, but genetics, environmental factors, and potentially vaccines are considered the main causes.


    It is important to note that autism is not caused by family dynamics (a child's upbringing). A child with autism learns best with a structured environment. This can include settings at home, social settings, and at school.

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    Childhood Diseases Funding Comparisons

    • Leukemia: Affects 1 in 25,000 and $310 million of research funding from the NIH in 2007 was spent on this condition.
    • Autism: Affects 1 in 150 and $42 million of research funding from the NIH in 2007 was spent on this condition.
    • Muscular Dystrophy: Affects 1 in 20,000 and $175 million of research funding from the NIH in 2007 was spent on this condition.

    Autism Speaks.