For those of you who have not read much about autism, this is Autism Awareness Month. As such, I want to do my part to help make you aware of the condition and the progress being made to help children on the Autism Spectrum.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It appears to have its roots in very early brain development, however, the most obvious signs and symptoms tend to emerge between 2-3 years of age. ASD is associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, sleep disruption and gastrointestinal disturbances. The incidence of autism in all its forms is approximately 1 in 88 children, affecting boys much more than girls. Currently, research has identified some rare gene changes associated with autism. But it appears to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
This month I took a look at some research and want to give you some up-dated findings about Autism.
One of the first concerns about the autism epidemic revolved around childhood immunizations, particularly the MMR. I’ve already presented findings on the MMR- Autism controversy. Actually, there is NO link between them. One faulty study was the source of the scare, but was later proved many times over not to be valid.
After that came the logical next question, was the dramatic increase in autism cases due to the exposure of babies to so many vaccines that the immune system could be compromised. Many parents have tried different immunization schedules to spread out the exposure to the vaccines.
The Journal of Pediatrics report of a study of 1,000 babies during the first two years of injections and follow up for at least six years, shows NO connection. This took into account children with regressive autism, those who lost verbal skills that they had already developed, and other types of autism. It used data on the amount of antigens received in any one day and over the whole test period. It was a very well planned study. You may read the report at: Autism Speaks One good thing that came out of this particular concern is that our babies are getting better vaccines that expose them to far fewer antigens during their first two years
Here are a few of the things we have learned in the last year about autism. To read the rest of the findings presented at the World Autism Awareness day at the UN, read Ten Important Things We Know Today
1. High-quality early intervention for autism can do more than improve behaviors, it can improve brain function. Read more.
2. Researchers can detect pre-symptom markers of autism as early as 6 months – a discovery that may lead to earlier intervention to improve outcomes. Read more.
3. Being nonverbal at age 4 does NOT mean children with autism will never speak. Research shows that most will, in fact, learn to use words, and nearly half will learn to speak fluently. Read more.
4. Though autism tends to be life long, some children with ASD make so much progress that they no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. High quality early-intervention may be the key. Read more.
5. Many younger siblings of children with ASD have developmental delays and symptoms that fall short of an autism diagnosis, but still warrant early intervention. Read more.
So what does this mean to you?
First, the vast majority of you will not have a child on the autism spectrum, but all of you will sometime soon encounter parents dealing with an autistic child. Please be as helpful and extend all the grace you can to these parents and children. They have a difficult parenting task.
Second, if you have ANY questions about your child’s development, ask your pediatrician about them. If you do not get the kind of answers you need, find another doctor. DO NOT WAIT! With early intervention the chances of normal or near normal development are greatly increased.
Third and maybe most important, if your child has autism- it is NOT your fault! You are not a defective parent. To have a special needs child is not shameful, but to not get treatment for a special needs child is shameful.