For many who are not aware, Wednesday, April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day. Many media programs have devoted some of their viewing time to include informative public awareness programs dealing with this world-wide developmental problem that afflicts more than 35 million people worldwide. Due to the fact that autism seems to be on the increase, international health organizations finally convinced the U.N. to create an annual day in which this scourge will finally be put before the public eye.

World Autism Awareness DayAutism is defined as a moderate to severe mental developmental disorder which prevents children from being able to make normal personal contact with others, develop normal language skills, and engage in interpersonal communication. There are a wide range of autistic conditions, which cause it to be known as a “spectrum disorder” since it can range from almost normal behavior to something at the opposite end of this range, or spectrum. As of mid 2007, around 3,000 people in Israel were diagnosed with this affliction, affecting around 1 in every 250 births. In countries such as the USA, however, the percentage of children born with autism is even higher at 1 in 150 births. Male children are 4 times more likely to be born autistic; and those conceived by men aged 40-49 are 5.5 times more likely to be autistic (children from men 50-60 are 9.4 times more likely to be autistic!).

What causes autism in children, especially boys, has not yet been discovered. But the fact that older men are more likely to father autistic children, may be why the ratio of autistic born children in North America is higher than in other countries (including Israel) since people are marrying in the USA and Canada at a much older age than in other countries. The reason that the condition is more prevalent in boys than in girls is still a mystery, and is perhaps linked to the fact that male sperm containing chromosomes more likely to produce boys is more prone to such conditions.

The success in being able to teach autistic children to speak and interact with other people depends on the seriousness or “degree” of the disability. Many people who are autistic can be taught to take care of themselves and even work in certain careers. The amount of assistance and/or supervision they require is connected with what level of autism they are diagnosed with.

There are several organizations in Israel that deal with providing therapy and education to children who are autistic. These include the TOMI organization, started by a couple whose own child was diagnosed as autistic; and the Meir Autism Treatment Center, that uses the well known Son-Rise Program that concentrates on teaches autistic children a variety of basis skills, including social skills, language and conversation, eye contact and attention span (a big problem with many autistic children) as well as academic and self help skills.

Although much progress has been made in assisting autistic people, there is still a lot more to be done, and one of the most important things is early diagnosis of the condition in order for the right treatment to be started. Many autistic children, especially those who are considered as “borderline” between being autistic and having some other kind of learning disability ,such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) for example, can be taught to live an almost normal life and be contributing members of their communities.

With Autism Awareness Day, this tragic and often misunderstood condition, is finally receiving to attention it so much deserves.