Children in the Recreation Choice Program of The Spectrum, a nonprofit program working to offer social activities for children and adults living with autism, collaborated to make this piece of artwork. Photo by Mike Belleme

Editor’s note: This is the fourth piece in a series about Western North Carolina children and adults living with autism. Read about an Asheville program offering social activities to local people with autism, view a photo story of the program , and read about a proposed bill that would, if passed, require all North Carolina insurers to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of autism.

Autism is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disabilities characterized by social and communication challenges. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause or cure for autism. The condition is treatable with early diagnosis, intervention and a variety of therapies.

Autism occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. Experts estimate that three to six children out of every 1,000 will be autistic. Males are four times more likely than females to have autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December 2009 that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in every 110 births in the United States, with it occurring in almost 1 in 70 boys.

Sources: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; The Autism Society.

Resources for learning more about diagnosing and understanding autism include:

  • The Asheville TEACCH Center, which serves individuals with autism in Western North Carolina. Services include diagnostic evaluations, treatment planning and implementation, education, consultation, supported employment assistance, training opportunities and research.
  • The related TEACCH autism program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
  • The nonprofit Autism Society of North Carolina, which offers a range of information and services. These include family support services, chapters in Western North Carolina and across the state, information in Spanish, training and resources for professionals who work with people with autism, legislative and other types of advocacy, and connections with recreational activities.
  • Camp Royall, a 133-acre facility near Pittsboro, N.C. Camp Royall is affiliated with the Autism Society of North Carolina and houses the United States’ oldest and largest summer camp program for people on the autism spectrum.
  • North Carolina Early Intervention Services, which helps coordinate the Together We Grow system of services provided by different agencies for programs for children from birth to age 5 and their families. Together We Grow includes the Infant-Toddler Program for children birth to 3 years old and the Preschool Program for children ages 3 to 5. North Carolina’s early intervention system of services is mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • County preschool services can direct parents of children ages 3 to 5 to a program that can evaluate children for that county or school system.
  • Principals at local schools can help set up evaluations for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
  • Medical doctors including private physicians, child psychologists, child psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians and pediatric neurologists are able to diagnose autism.

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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