Autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities in the world, affecting approximately 1 out of every 166 children. Its prevalence rate makes it the second most common developmental disability-even more common than Down Syndrome. By conservative estimate, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. today have some form of autism. In North Carolina, between 25,000 and 30,000 individuals have been diagnosed with the condition. It is a lifelong disability with no known cure at this time. The symptoms of autism tend to appear very early in life, usually within the first three years. In general, these include:
- Significant problems in language development
- Significant problems with understanding and engaging in social interactions
- Inconsistent sensory response patterns-for instance, periods when hearing appears to function normally and periods of apparent deafness
- Uneven pattern of intellectual development
- Significant, highly-focused restriction of interests and activities
- The symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a variety of combinations and with a range of severity from mild to severe, so two children with the same diagnosis of autism can act very differently from one another and have very different skills, abilities and functioning levels.