What is autism?

Throughout April, which is Autism Awareness Month, Fox 5 News seeks to educate others on the challenges facing so many families today.

A typical Saturday morning for many kids: music class, swimming lessons, yoga, or just playing in a sand box. But for these children, it is more than just a fun physical outlet. It is a chance to develop practical skills and socialize. The children have autism spectrum disorders. 

Jackie Ceonzo, the founder of S.N.A.C.K, a special needs activity center for kids and adults, and mother of a son with autism understands exactly what these kids are going through.

Autism refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. 

Dr. Thomas Frazier is the chief science officer of Autism Speaks. He says each individual with autism is so different. He says some people are much more affected but others are less affected. The behaviors can be very different from child to child. He says that the word "spectrum" is designed to help people understand that a wide variation in behavior exists. A lot of research still needs to be done, but Dr. Frazier says there is more than just one cause of autism. 

Children with autism can be diagnosed as young as 18 months old. But the most obvious signs -- lack of eye contact and verbal communication -- tend to appear between 2 and 3 years old. Autism affects children of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

Indigo is 5. She was diagnosed at 2 and ever since, her parents, Paul and Star Kahn, have structured their entire lives around giving Indigo the support she needs. Indigo has attended physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and applied behavioral analysis.

William Hamilton, 11, is on the autism spectrum. He has had similar therapies. His father is NYPD Officer William Hamilton. He says that when his son turned 2 he and his wife knew that something wasn't quite right. He says he would try to engage his son, but William would just look away and wouldn't focus.

These days, Officer Hamilton says his son is a happy developing child, just like the kids who are all focusing on being more comfortable with themselves and waiting for us to better understand them.