The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Lisana Eckenrode
Sun-Telegraph 

Autism Awareness should be every month

 


April is Autism Awareness Month. But Autism is something that parents of children who have been diagnosed as autistic deal with each month of the year.

The prevalence of children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has risen drastically over the past two decades.

An estimated one of 54 boys and one in 252 girls are diagnosed with an ASD in the United States each year. By the Centers for Disease Control estimates, the official prevalence number is one in 88 children are diagnosed with an ASD.

This number suggests rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually over recent years.

Prior to 1990, the number of children diagnosed with an ASD was one in 2,000. By the mid-1990s, the number grew to one in 500. A decade later, it was one in 150. As of 2009, the number changed to one in 110.

The Mayo Clinic web site states that “Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior. But because autism symptoms and severity vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have strikingly different skills. In most cases, though, children with severe autism have marked impairments or a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people.”

High functioning children with an ASD may only have social interaction problems, quirky mannerisms, repetitive behaviors and they may find it difficult to make eye contact with people. At the other end of the autism spectrum, the children might have severe behavioral problems and may be aggressive or may not speak at all.

Tell-tale signs of autism may be seen earlier in life with signs such as: The child doesn’t respond with a smile or happy expression by six months; he or she doesn’t mimic sounds or facial expressions by nine months; there is no babbling or cooing by 12 months and the child doesn’t gesture (such as point or wave) by this age; he or she doesn’t say single words by 16 months nor does he or she say two-word phrases by 24 months.

But some children might develop normally (coos, babbles and says single words) for the first few months of life, then the child might lose previously acquired language or social skills at any age and become non-verbal for a few years or the rest of his or her life.

According to research, there is no single cause of autism just as there is no single type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by itself. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors that influence early brain development.

In the presence of a genetic predisposition to autism, a number of non-genetic, or “environmental,” stresses appear to further increase a child’s risk. The clearest evidence of these autism risk factors involves events before and during birth. They include advanced parental age at time of conception (both mom and dad), maternal illness during pregnancy and certain difficulties during birth, particularly those involving periods of oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain. It is important to keep in mind that these factors, by themselves, do not cause autism. Rather, in combination with genetic risk factors, they appear to modestly increase risk. There is still a debate about the link between immunizations and ASD.

A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.

Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Others with autism have significant disability and are unable to live independently.

About 25 percent of individuals with ASD are nonverbal but can learn to communicate using other means such as sign language, pictures or by keyboarding.

Autism Speaks’ mission is to improve the lives of all those on the autism spectrum. For some, this means the development and delivery of more effective treatments that can address significant challenges in communication and physical health. For others, it means increasing acceptance, respect and support.

Autism Speaks’ documents state that, “ASDs are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. However, symptoms and their severity vary widely across these three core areas.

Taken together, they may result in relatively mild challenges for someone on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. For others, symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language interfere with everyday life.”

According to Autism Speaks, a new government survey of parents indicates that one in 50 school-age children have an ASD. This is significantly higher than the CDC’s one in 88 estimate of autism prevalence that is based on medical and school records of 8-year-old children at monitoring sites across the country.

The new estimate of autism prevalence comes from a 2011-2012 telephone survey that asked nearly 100,000 parents across the country a range of health-related questions about children ages 6 to 17.

“This number does not replace the official estimate of 1 in 88, but it does suggest that it may be a significant underestimate of autism prevalence in the United States,” says Autism Speaks Associated Director of Public Health Research Michael Rosanoff, M.P.H. “One in fifty, or two percent, is much closer to what we’ve seen from research that involves directly screening children in the community.”

A Nebraska Legislative Bill (LB 505) was introduced and first read in January of this year. It reads: “FOR AN ACT relating to insurance; to provide requirements for coverage of autism spectrum disorders; to define terms; and to provide duties for the Director of Insurance. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Nebraska.”

There are things being done to help those who are affected by an ASD. Raising awareness of ASD is the key to helping everyone affected by it and also the key to helping those who are unfamiliar with ASD understand more about it.

Becky Rossell, the secretary of the Autism Society of Nebraska, says that the Autism Puzzle Walk in North Platte this year is the third annual one there. In the first walk, 70 people participated. That number tripled last year to more than 200. Rossell says she hopes that the number reaches 300 this year.

There will be various activities for all ages and refreshments will be served. Next year, a 5K will be added.

Registration for the walk may be completed online at http://give.autismnebraska.org/site/TR/Events/General?fr_id=1061&pg=entry or at Cody Park before the walk. Cost is $12. The walk begins at 3:00 p.m.

Clinical Psychologist John Striebel of Platte River Counseling, says that “One of things the prevalence rate of autism seems to be increasing and we are not sure why.” He went on to say that when he started in this business 30 years ago, the rate of diagnosed cases was much lower.

Striebel says that, “Maybe we are doing a better job of diagnosing children, especially at lower spectrum levels, as opposed to severely autistic, maybe this is why the prevalence rate is increasing.”

When asked if children who live in rural towns (towns that lack services and resources to diagnose autism) might be inaccurately diagnosed, Striebel said that is possible.

Striebel currently has three autistic children on his caseload and one autistic adult. He says, “The problem with Medicaid is that it does not reimburse well for disorder; it is considered to not be a behavioral but instead a neurological problem.”

Striebel went on to add that although he thinks the school systems do a great job overall, in the case of autistic children, the schools systems are not doing good job in providing care to keep kids stabilized.

Striebel said, “Most of the autistic kids need to be in structured classroom. They are expensive to educate because they require smaller classroom sizes. Some children even need one-on-one instruction.”

In regards to autistic children and adolescents becoming adults, Striebel says that the higher functioning ASD children will probably be able to function independently over time. But the lower functioning children will probably need care all of their lives.

Striebel added, “There is no cure, but there is treatment and support for this. I Encourage people to get involved with the Autism society and to connect with other parents. The parents need to learn the rights of the autistic child. This is important because most of school districts tend to interpret the needs of these kids at minimum demand.”

He went on to say that some of the children who have an ASD are just “quirky but very bright.” He added that a person he had treated in the past is now a lawyer in another state.

In conclusion, Striebel encourages parents to get involved with developmental disability services.

For more information about developmental disability services, visit the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services web site http://dhhs.ne.gov/developmental_disabilities/Pages/developmental_disabilities_index.aspx.

For more about ASD, visit:

http://www.autismspeaks.org/

http://www.unmc.edu/mmi/casd.htm

http://www.autismnebraska.org/

 

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