New Britain City Journal

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Health

Become Aware of the Autism Spectrum Disorders

It seems as though we are hearing more and more about Autism lately. Is it because there is more Autism occurring in the general population than ever before? Or, is it because we are paying more attention to autism, diagnosing it more frequently and effectively? Both have been said to be true, however the latter seems to be the most generally accepted among those in the field. In either case, it helps to become aware of Autism and its associated disorders because it is often misunderstood

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people. ASDs are’spectrum disorders’. That means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.” There is not one specific cause for ASD, however prenatal exposure to drugs such as thalidomide and valproic has shown to put children at higher risk. There is also a body of research with vaccines that are given to children after birth as being a concern. Also, statistically significant correlations have been made that point to genetics more than any other cause. This is where most professionals feel ASDs originate.

ASDs affect millions worldwide. In the United States the prevalence, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is about 1:110 persons. This means that each year, if four million people are born, roughly 36,500 will have some sort of ASD. Another way of reporting it is that of the total population in the United States which is approximately 311,500,000, the number of those with ASD is about 3,426,500, a sizable amount.

Statistically, ASD is most often diagnosed at four or five years old, however most parents report developmental concerns much earlier. Often ASD is first diagnosed by the pediatrician during well child visits, with confirmatory diagnosis made by a more specialized doctor such as a developmental pediatrician, neurologist, child psychiatrist or child psychologist using a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation. There are several tools that these physicians and professionals use as part of that diagnosis, including parent questionnaires and neurological development tests for the child. When a positive diagnosis is made a referral for specific intervention and treatment should be made by the physician. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) states that children who are at risk for developmental delays are eligible for early intervention services if the child is under the age of three. After the age of three, the child is also eligible for special education programs. These services are free.

Behaviorally, ASDs can be mistaken for other types of developmental disorders. However, there are some commonalities. According to the CDC, a person with a ASD might:

  • Not respond to their name by 12 months
  • Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
  • Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • Have delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Give unrelated answers to questions
  • Get upset by minor changes
  • Have obsessive interests
  • Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
  • Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Many different treatment modalities are used for ASD. Not all treatments work for each child, and must be tailored, often with trial and error. These treatments can be behavior and communication approaches, dietary approaches, medication, and complementary/alternative medicine. For example ASDs such as Asperger’s Syndrome, or high functioning autism, may be treated with occupational therapy whereas treatment for more severe pervasive developmental disorders may include sensory integration techniques and medication. Multiple modes of treatment at the same time are common, with some occurring in educational settings, professional settings, as well as home settings.

Living with a person with ASD affects the entire family. Depending on the severity of the ASD, time and energy spent to care for a person with ASD varies from a little more than normal to complete, one to one attention. Social settings may be difficult, as behavior of a person with and ASD are often different and are likely to draw attention. However, with more exposure and sensitivity, most people understand that we are all different from one another, and a person with ASD is just as much of a person as anyone else. James Durbin, the 2011 American Idol rocker who was recently on television was diagnosed with not only Asperger’s Syndrome but also Tourette Syndrome (a neurological movement disorder causing twitching and sometimes involuntary verbal noises or words). Yet, his ability to perform was outstanding. This is yet another example of persons living with disabilities that excel in so many ways.

There are several supports for children and parents of those with ASD. On the web visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/freematerials.html. You can order various supportive materials concerning ASD as well as navigate to other web supports that are listed. In Connecticut the State Education Resource Center, located at 25 Industrial Park Rd. in Middletown offers a great deal of assistance and information. They are also on line at www.ctserc.org. The Connecticut Department of Developmental Services (DDS) is also a very good support. They have a separate “Division of Autism” and can be reached by dialing 860-418-6000 or on the web at www.ct.gov/dds. Locally, the New Britain Consolidated School District is the responsible agency for educational services. There is also a Special Education Parents Council, part of HRA of New Britain, which can be reached at 860-225-8601. If still in need of help, New Britain Youth & Family Services, with grant support from the Department of Children and Families and Wheeler Clinic offer “wrap around” Care Coordination services to families that qualify. NBYFS is located on the 3rd floor of City Hall, or call 860-826-3366. There is also the office of the Commission on Persons with Disabilities at the same site and phone number, as both are housed in the Community Services Division.