Autism 101

                                                                                                                    

by Julie Bookman and Amanda Miller Allen

More children than ever before – one in 88 in the United States – are identified as autistic, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers are higher for boys, with 1 in 54 affected. Diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have increased 23 percent since 2009. A recent government health survey indicates one in 50 school-age kids might be affected by ASD. In short, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. The risk factors for autism and its underlying causes are a significant research focus for the CDC. “An autism spectrum diagnosis has a huge impact both emotionally and financially on families,” says Kimberly Dick, director of field development for Autism Speaks in Georgia. She has a 7-year-old son on the autism spectrum, so “I know how important early diagnosis is and how critical it is to find support and resources.” Our roundup offers just a sampling of recent news relating to autism – and support resources for parents.

A Parent’s Roadmap

Families dealing with a diagnosis of autism can benefit from the experience of others. Here’s what the experts and other parents recommend:

Attitude is key. Put the shock of the diagnosis and the questions about whether it’s somehow your “fault” behind you. Focus on getting help for your child.

Educate yourself. Use the Internet, doctors, therapists and support organizations to stay current on medical and behavioral information and services available for your child. If one therapy isn’t working, another might.

Educate your friends and family. Helping others understand your child’s condition leads to more acceptance if he behaves in unexpected ways.

Early intervention works. All studies show children with autism spectrum disorder benefit from qualified therapists, so put together a plan as soon as possible based on your child’s needs. Also, find a medical doctor with experience in treating autism; use a referral from other parents or an autism organization.

Help the therapists. Learn techniques therapists use, and continue to work with your child at home. Your child will progress more quickly with consistency and a team approach.

Join a support group. Others in a support group understand your journey, plus other parents will share discoveries and information about autism and how they handled similar situations.

Ask for help. Reach out to friends and family members for help and respite; trying to do it all on your own will lead to burnout and won’t help your child. If family and friends can’t help, pay a qualified caregiver. Everyone needs a break from time to time.

Plan for the future. Autism is a lifelong diagnosis, but with quality intervention, children will improve over time. Many grow up to have happy, fulfilling lives. Those children were surrounded by parents, therapists and caregivers who helped them maximize their potential.

Sources: Autism Today (autismtoday.com) and Navigating Autism: The Essential How-to By Parents for Parents by Andrew and Melissa Areffi (Amazon, $24.95).

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