Sunday, April 20, 2008

April is Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month. There are three things about autism that most people probably are not aware of.

First is its prevalence. The latest estimate is that 1 in 150 people in the USA have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is also known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD).

If you're in the fields of engineering, computer science, physics or math, the chances are even higher that you, your children, your coworkers or their children could be diagnosed with this disorder. And you should check out, which is dedicated to the early identification and treatment of children with developmental delays and disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The second thing to be aware of is knowing what autism is. The diagnostic criteria for ASD in children concern development and ability in the areas of social interaction, communication and play. Please see "Diagnosis and Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders," by Lee Tidmarsh, MD, Fred R Volkmar, MD. The misconception is that all autistic children are non-verbal and catatonic. That may be true of children who are on the low end of the spectrum. But those with either "high-functioning autism" or Asperger Syndrome can be very verbal, especially when they're talking about their "special interest," such as locomotives. They are usually of average or above-average intelligence, and they sometimes come across as "little professors."

The third thing to be aware of regarding autism is that there are effective treatments. Early detection of an ASD is crucial because when interventions are tried at an early age (say at 3 to 5 years of age), they are even more effective than when tried later on.

I should point out that most of those who have an ASD and who can communicate say that they don't want to be cured; they just want to be accepted. Thus, it's not they who have the problem, it is society. Nevertheless, interventions can make things easier for children and the autistic adults they grow in to.

What kinds of interventions can reduce the symptoms of an ASD? A change in diet -- avoiding wheat and dairy products (the Gluten-Free Caisen-Free GFCF diet), for example, or avoiding chemical additives (the Feingold diet) -- can help. (The GFCF diet helps those with Leaky Gut Syndrome, which can manifest as symptoms of ASD.) Another effective, diet-related approach is supplementation with mega doses of vitamin B6, or its active co-enzyme, P5P. Play therapy or Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has been proven to help. In some cases, mercury detoxification may help. There are many more interventions for a parent to choose from. Then there are interventions aimed at easing the secondary symptoms that accompany ASD such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression.

Scientists can spend entire careers looking for signs of intelligent life in the Universe. Meanwhile, medical researchers have overlooked signs of intelligence in people with autism. They assume that people who can't talk and who respond differently to stimuli must be lacking in intelligence.

If you don't believe me, consider the amazing website, Getting the Truth Out, which was originally written in response to an objectionable Autism Awareness fundraising campaign called "Getting the Word Out." Be sure to follow the presentation completely to the end -- it may take about 45 minutes to get through it all.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with an ASD, visit the Online Asperger Syndrome Information & Support (OASIS). (Asperger Syndrome is an ASD, and is sometimes referred to as High-Functioning Autism.) As its name suggests, you can get a great deal of information from the site. You can find most of the support by clicking on the Message Boards menu choice and registering for the "OASIS: Asperger Syndrome Forum".

When most people know the facts about autism, policymakers can no longer ignore the issue. Lawmakers can force health insurance providers to cover the costs of treatments. More money could be made available to schools to fund better special education programs and to keep up with "No Child Left Behind" mandates. And parents and caregivers can have children evaluated earlier.

Follow the links. Do the research. Spread the word.

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