Understanding Autism

With a rise in diagnosed cases and a sea of conflicting information, autism is a condition that leaves many parents terrified. Yet affected families have every reason to be hopeful about the future.

When he was a toddler, Donald didn’t seem to care whether his parents came or went. Before turning 2, he’d already memorized Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd…”) and could recite the catechism from memory, but never paid attention to a fully costumed Santa Claus during the winter holidays. He soon became obsessed with watching spinning objects and would have explosive temper tantrums if he was interrupted. Worried, Donald’s father sent a 33-page typed letter recounting these and other unusual behaviors to a young psychiatrist named Leo Kanner at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore.

The year was 1938, and Donald would later become the first American child ever diagnosed with autism. For decades afterward, it was believed that the condition was rare. Times have certainly changed. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, and it’s four to five times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.

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