Autism Insights: What Does It Mean When Someone is “On the Spectrum?”

What is the Autism Spectrum & What Does it Mean?

What is the autism spectrum exactly? The phrase “on the spectrum” is something you have probably heard, and it’s used frequently as a way to describe someone who has some degree of autism or borderline autistic behavior. As a parent, it’s a phrase you hope to never use in describing your own child, but the reality is that many families will be faced with autism, so you need to know the facts. Autism in babies is a real risk, and the truth is that children of any age, even newborns, can show early signs of autism. In honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, it’s time to understand more about the autism scale and what it means.

What is the Autism Spectrum?

Autism is a condition that is characterized by “social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors,” according to Autism Speaks. The reason we often hear the phrase “on the spectrum” is because autism is not a single disorder, but rather a group of developmental disorders, known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes a wide range, otherwise known as a spectrum, of symptoms, behaviors and severity of disability.

Autism is far more common than you might realize; “about 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD),” according to the CDC, and while ASD can occur to anyone regardless of gender or ethnicity, it is far more common among boys, with 1 in 42 boys being identified with ASD.

It is currently unknown what the cause of autism is, though research is being conducted to investigate a combination of risk factors such as genetic mutations (rare gene changes) and environmental factors (premature birth, low birth weight, illness during pregnancy) that may lead to autism. And we know what you are wondering — no, vaccines do not cause autism. Extensive research has looked into this potential link and the results are consistent: vaccines are not to blame.

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