Sunday, April 17, 2011

What every parent needs to know about Autism Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 4 part series spotlighting National Autism Awareness Month

Autism is one of the five Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which is in a group of Disorders that are referred to as Disorders Usually Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV).  Autism is normally diagnosed in childhood, and early detection and intervention are an important key to a favorable prognosis.

If you have met one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism.

Autism can appear very different in each child. In spite of the stereotypical portrayal of individuals with Autism in the popular media (Rain Man), each person is just that, a person.  In working with children and adults with Autism and other Intellectual and Developmental Disorders, I have learned the importance of what is called "person-first" language.  For example, saying "that autistic girl", one would say "my neighbor Sally likes to watch movies, and she has Autism".  In this way, a diagnosis of Autism, or anything else (i.e. Schizophrenia, Depression) does not define the person.  After all, you would not say "My Republican neighbor" or "My black haired neighbor" because these are simply characteristics of those people and do not define their identity. 

Some common issues that are present in most individuals with Autism are difficulties with communication, social skills, and restricted interests and repetitive patterns of behavior. The Autism Speaks website features a Video Glossary that is designed to provide professionals and families with video representations of children of varying ages, both typically developing and with Autism. This Glossary helps depict early red flags and diagnostic features of Autism. The Glossary can be found at the following link:

Co-Occurring Disorders

Estimates are that up to 75% of those with Autism also have Intellectual Disabilities. In addition to Intellectual Disabilities, those with Autism are often faced with co-occurring depression, OCD, anxiety and trauma. These are often untreated and can contribute to difficulties in social and work settings. Individuals with Autism and other disabilities are also at great risk for abuse and neglect.

Treatment and intevention: initial issues
It is important that treatment have the following characteristics:

1) Treatment needs to begin early.  As soon as you believe your child may have delays in any area, see a pediatrician or developmental psychologist immediately. The sooner intervention can begin, the better;
2) Treatment needs to be a team approach. Family, teachers, psychologists, and other professionals (occupational therapist, speech therapist, physical therapist, etc), need to be involved in developing a strong and comprehensive plan to address each area of need, and to build upon your child's strengths and talents;
3) Parents should educate themselves about advocacy, and how you can obtain all services and support that your child needs;
4)  In home support, as well as support in school, should take a comprehensive approach that provides consistency and develops skills.

Part 3 of this series will focus on transitional issues into adulthood, and will outline concerns specific to individuals with Autism in adulthood throughout the lifespan. Part 4 will be a special guest blog by a parent of a young man with Autism.

If you have a child that you suspect has Autism, do not wait to get help. Early intervention is a key. 


Monday, April 11, 2011

What every parent needs to know about Autism

This is part of a 4 part series about Autism.

The Backstory

On May 21, 1991, I embarked on what would become a lifelong passion and journey that changed my life in more ways that I can ever explain. For sure, it pointed the way for the rest of my career: This was the date that I first began working at The Devereux Kanner Center, in West Chester, PA. As a psychology major, I needed to complete a Field Experience for a course in Human Development. As I walked through the Sykes Union Center, I happened upon a job fair, where is met a woman who was at a table with applications. “What is this Devereux place?” I asked. At that time, I never planned to work with adults with Autism and other Intellectual Disabilities, which is generally the way all the best things in life come: unexpected and unplanned.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a neurological disorder that affects the normal development and of the brain. The major areas affected are social and communication skills. Autism is one of 5 Pervasive Developmental Disorders (Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rhett’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified).

While experts do not know the specific cause of autism, research suggests that it is a genetic disorder. What we DO KNOW is that autism is not caused by parenting style, nor is it caused by childhood vaccines. Research findings on the causes of autism have yielded inconsistent findings, but it is clear that there are a variety of abnormalities in the structure and chemicals in the brain.

Prevalence of Autism

Autism is found in all racial, social, ethnic, economic and geographic group. It knows no boundaries and can affect any family. The most recent statistics were reported by the CDC and state that Autism affects 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys.

The most recent statistic are believed to be a dramatic under representation of the real statistics due to those who are not receiving services, have been misdiagnosed or were never formally diagnosed. In 2005, there were a total of 19,862 individuals who are diagnosed with Autism. At that time, it was estimated that there would be 25,000 in 2010. The following map depicts the prevalence by county:

What should parents look out for?

About half of all parents of children with Autism note that their child’s behaviors are unusual by approximately a year and a half. 80% are aware by 24 months.  Research has shown that early intervention is a key component of a good prognosis, and the earlier, the better.  If you see any of the following symptoms, see a psychologist as soon as possible:

3 - 4 mos old with no eye contact
12 months old with no babbling
12 months old with no pointing or waving goodbye
16 months old with no single words
24 months old with no two-word phrases
ANY loss of language skills or social skills, at ANY age

The next blog will include symptoms and behaviors associated with Autism.  If you suspect someone you know has Autism, or your child is displaying any delays, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Counseling Corner Extra: Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

There has been a great debate in the media about the belief that childhood vaccines cause autism.  Dr. Andrew Wakefield completed research that was later found to have fatal flaws. To date, there is no concrete proof that vaccines are the cause of autism.  To read more about this issue, click here.


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