Monday, April 27, 2015

April is National Autism Awareness Month!

How does autism impact your day to day life? 

For me, I experience autism twice a week for about 45 minutes. During that time I give it all I got and it's tiring to say the least. If you could watch this 4 year old girl and me, you would see up and down, back and forth, in and out, open and close, moving from activity to activity. It is controlled chaos. It may just look like we're playing, but this is serious business.   I'm in search of a smile, watching for gestures, listening  for a sound, trying to engage her any way possible, always keeping in mind, "Her parents are counting on me."  

When our time is up, I pack my toys, books, iPad and baby doll, and go home.  She, on the other hand, continues on in her silent, seemingly mysterious world. 

As a Speech Pathologist that has worked primarily with adults and geriatrics, that is the extent of my recent dealings with autism, and sometimes, that's more than enough. For teachers and parents, they manage children with autism on a daily and ongoing basis. It is not an easy task. My girlfriend, Catherine, knows this lifestyle all too well.  She relays to me the challenges of coordinating and scheduling  all of therapists and specialists that are necessary to provide the treatment  her son needs.

She says the front door of her home is always unlocked for all the people coming and going through the day. She also admits that she spends more time talking with therapists than she does her own friends.  (That's true, because I'm her friend and we havent' talked on the phone for since last November.) Sometimes,to me, it sounds like she is leading a three ring circus. So I say....MORE POWER TO YOU, Catherine!

Now flash forward to last week...

I was listening to the Today Show (no time to actually watch Matt, Natalie and Savannah),  I heard the latest statistic about the  prevalence of autism. It stopped me in my tracks. My son, Jay, saw my amazement. He asked me, "Is that bad, Mom?" I explained that the year he was born, 2002, the number (I think) was 1 in every 148 children. Now, its 1 in every 68!  My response to him was, "Yes, Jay, it is very, very bad." 

What has happened? 

Officials relate these dramatic increases in cases of ASD  to improving recognition. In other words, we, as professionals, are getting better at identifying autism. However, some believe the statistics related to autism are actually much higher, based on the fact that you can't accurately count the cases of ASD if the children involved are not receiving intervention. What all this means is that the government's autism estimate will probably continue to rise as communities continue to get better at recognizing the disorder. So, brace yourself, because within a few years, researchers predict that autism in the US is "on pace" to affect 1 of every  38 children. 

Want to know more?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impair social, communicative and cognitive functions. Even though researchers don't thoroughly understand  the science of autism, a basic understanding of these concepts is paramount to spreading awareness of ASD. So, every April, National Autism Awareness Month is recognized. It is the perfect time to inform and educate the public...and I want to do my part. Here are a few facts to take away after reading this blog:

  • Approximately 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with ASD each year in the United States. It has been determined that boys are 4 times more likely to have an ASD than girls, and that narrows their statistics to 1 in 42. 

  • Even though no one is sure what causes autism, we know that it is possible to detect signs of autism in infants as young as 6-18 months.

  • Parents who notice signs of autism, or are concerned their children are not meeting developmental milestones, should contact their pediatrician and request a developmental screening. Don't take "no" for an answer and get bossy if you have to!

  • Scientist agree that the earlier the child receives  intervention, the better the prognosis, and all children with autism can benefit from interventions that are available. The most effective treatments today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA), physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Whether you are reading this as a  therapist, teacher, parent, grand parent, aunt, uncle, friend or neighbor, please take time to familiarize yourself with age appropriate developmental milestones. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests:  Know the Signs. Act Early.

If you're still not sure a child is showing signs of ASD, there is a do it yourself screening tool available on the internet.  The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised (M-CHAT-R) assists you in determining the level of risk for ASD in children between 16 and 30 months of age.   With just 20 simple questions, the M-CHAT-R is actually a scientifically validated screening tool that is recommended by  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Neato! The link is above if you want to check it out.

Like always, if you don't use this information now, save it for later. If it doesn't apply to you, then share it with someone you know. With statistics like these, it seems inevitable that autism will affect your life, sooner or later. 

No matter what, join me in the celebration of National Autism Awareness Month. It represents an excellent opportunity to promote autism awareness and acceptance and enables us to  draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year. 

Hope it's a great week for you. Thanks for reading!

To measure the success of our societies, we should examine how well those with different abilities, including persons with autism, are integrated as full and valued members. Ban Ki-moon- Secretary-General of the United Nations