Over the past twenty years, there has been a worldwide increase in children being diagnosed with Autism, and experts are theorising as to why this is happening.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental spectrum disorder which affects the normal social and communication development of a child.  Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls and the average age of diagnosis is 2 years old, although some children are not diagnosed until around the age of 5 years.  There is no cure for this disorder but outcomes can be greatly improved with early diagnosis followed by progression to an environment which will support the specific challenges associated with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The different degrees of autism can range from mild to severe and can include a diversity of mental and physical issues.  Delayed milestones, difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication and a socially awkward child are just three symptoms which are generally considered red flags to parents and specialists alike.

As rates have doubled in the last two decades throughout all races and socioeconomic groups, this surge in the diagnoses of Autism is thought to be associated with several factors, the dominant two being genetic and environmental.

In the 1960’s Autism was considered a rare disorder, but with the advent of more accurate diagnoses taken from an ever-broadening criteria of symptoms which would place more children on the Autistic Spectrum, diagnoses of milder forms inevitably increased the figures of children with ASD.

80% of Autistic cases are considered genetic in origin, ie; autistic traits observed in relatives across generations of the same family are more likely to be inherited, with 20% being environmental and caused by toxins, pesticides and industrial chemicals such as BPA which are found throughout our societies.

Other factors potentially influencing the increasing rates in Autism include parents choosing to have children at an older age and more premature babies surviving thanks to better technology and healthcare.

Globally, perceptions of what is classified as an Autistic trait varies across cultures.  In Japan where children are expected to display quiet reverence towards adults, a disinterest in peers would not be seen as a red flag for autism, instead, it would be viewed as a virtuous behaviour of shyness and modesty.  Such cultural differences may have an influence on the overall diagnostic figures of children with ASD although there is currently no specific, uniform criteria for assessing autism.

In Hong Kong and mainland China, a reported rise in the number of cases related to skin disorders and autism in children is considered to stem from the long-term exposure of children to mercury, lead and arsenic in fish diets and the industrial discharges in the local environment, according to Dr Lillian Ko, consultant of the Hong Kong Child Development Centre.

According to https://worldpopulationreview.com France has the lowest rates of autism in the world, closely followed by Portugal, Iceland, Norway and Italy.  Countries with the highest rates of autism are all found across the Middle East with Qatar, UAE and Oman at the top of the list.

Depression is a common side effect of ASD but the allocation of meaningful activities which include responsibilities to encourage independence all help to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Although there is, as yet, no cure for ASD, treatments and strategies to manage the varied mental and physical disabilities which accompany the ASD spectrum are continuously being updated as experts advance their research into the growing worldwide trend of this disorder.

With the right support and treatment, children with ASD can be helped to live relatively normal lives and to gain control over many of their symptoms.

Seeking out a nurturing school environment which specialises in Autism is a huge step forward to gaining peace of mind for many parents.

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‘Every student can learn, just not on the same day or in the same way.’

George Evans