Editorial for April 2: It’s time to recognise autism

This is the day the world recognises autism.

Those who ventured to Camana Bay over the Easter weekend at night saw the shopping and residential facility’s Town Centre lit in blue in honour of Autism Awareness Day, which falls on Tuesday, 2 April, just like many other landmarks around the world, including the pyramids in Egypt, the Sydney Opera House and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Nowadays, just about all of us know of someone who has a child suffering from autism, which is a general term that describes a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences.

A new case of autism is diagnosed every 15 minutes and more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined, according to Autism Speaks, an international autism advocacy organisation.

Autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the US, with boys five times more likely than girls to have autism. It is estimated that 1 per cent of the world’s population is affected by autism, or 70 million people.

For many years – and still – some parents of autistic children have blamed childhood inoculations on the disorder because more than 10 years ago, a clinical research paper triggered widespread fears that a combined vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella – the so-called MMR vaccine – causes autism. That theory has been soundly refuted by various research, and now a new study that tried to replicate the original study has provided further evidence that it was a false alarm. But the rumours and fears persist.

The big losers in this debate are the children who are not being vaccinated because of parental fears and are at risk of contracting serious – sometimes fatal – diseases.

Thanks to better and earlier detection, as well as a greater willingness to talk about autism, there have been enormous strides to find a cure. Now it’s time for more focus on the causes of this disorder and providing care that extends beyond childhood.

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