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!


Share |