Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

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 of autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today.

Some of the behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language, difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation, difficulty with executive functioning (relating to reasoning and planning), narrow but intense interests; poor motor skills and sensory sensitivities.​

A person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few, or many others not on this list.

The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report in March 2014. The report concluded that the prevalence of autism had risen to one in every 68 births in the United States – nearly twice as great as the 2004 rate of one in 125 – and almost one in 54 boys.

The spotlight shining on autism, as a result, has opened opportunities for the nation to consider how to serve families facing a lifetime of supports for their children.

Researchers estimated in June 2014 the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism is as great as $2.4 million.

The Autism Society estimates the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism. This figure includes research, insurance costs and non-covered expenses, Medicaid waivers for autism, educational spending, housing, transportation, employment, related therapeutic services and caregiver costs.

Early identification can change lives.

​​Autism is treatable but children do not “outgrow” autism. Studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

Here are some signs to look for in the children in your life:

Lack of or delay in spoken language

Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)

Little or no eye contact

Lack of interest in peer relationships

Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play

Persistent fixation on parts of objects

The Autism Society of Southwest Louisiana in Lake Charles provides support, services and opportunities to persons with autism and their families in Calcasieu, Cameron, Beauregard, Jeff Davis, Allen and Vernon.

The Fort Polk Exceptional Family Member Program provides assistance for military families who have a family member affected by autism.