Today marks World Autism Awareness Day 2012, giving the disorder that affects one in 88 children greater visibility.
Autism spectrum disorders are marked by impaired social interaction, communication problems and repetitive behaviors, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
On Autism Awareness Day, an Autism Speaks-funded study revealed the disorder is estimated to cost the United States $126 billion a year and $2.3 million a year over the lifetime of a person with autism.
As of 2009, autism was said to have been affected by one in 110 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But the CDC just upped that number to one in 88 children.
Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson called on the country's political leaders to put autism one of the nation's top health issues.
"These figures make it all the more clear that our society as a whole needs to become more engaged in solving this public health emergency," Dawson said. "All of us are touched by autism and its economic burden. We need our national and state leaders - and political candidates - to rise to the challenge by making autism one of our top public health priorities."
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics and was unveiled over the weekend at an international summit in Hong Kong.
"Autism is a global public health crisis. The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase," said Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright. "We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the U.S. and governments around the world step up their commitment to helping people living with autism today. The investment we make now is essential to reducing the long-term costs of autism."
Symptoms of autism can emerge anywhere from infancy to around 2 or 3 years old.
If a child has one symptom, it may just be that they are late in their development and not necessarily that they have autism.
So what are the symptoms you should look for in your child?
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms fall into three categories: social skills; language and behavior.
A child who doesn't respond to their name, has poor eye contact, enjoys playing by themselves and acts as if they don't hear you are some of the symptoms that may indicate autism.
Children who begin talking after their second year, don't make eye contact when asking questions and do not have the ability to carry a conversation are some of the language symptoms of autism.
Behavioral symptoms include repetitive moments (rocking, spinning or hand-flapping), rituals, getting upset over changes in routine and being fixated on details of an object.