In the years since I began my work with individuals affected by autism the prevalence rates have sky rocketed from 5 in 10,000 children to now 1 in 88 children. Currently 1 out of 54 boys and 1 out of 252 girls is suspected of being on the autism spectrum in the United States. The ratio has remained the same impacting more boys than girls (4:1). It is imperative that individuals understand that autism does not discriminate; touching people in all racial, ethnic, and income levels. So what is autism? Autism is when you really don’t like someone’s new hair cut and you tell them so. Autism is when you tap your pencil or twirl your hair. Autism is when someone tells you a joke and you don’t get it. Autism is when you are unable to cope with small inconveniences. Autism is when you know everything there is to know about computers or dinosaurs but you don’t know how to make a friend. Autism is when someone tells you they live in Orange and you say I live in yellow. Autism is when you don’t make eye contact and people think you’re rude. Autism is not being able to relate to others. Autism is seeing the world in black and white with absolutely no shades of gray. Autism is when you can’t hold a job because you don’t get office etiquette. Autism is a matter of degree not kind.
In the upcoming year what used to be known as the Pervasive Developmental Disorders which includes autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and PDD-NOS will now be known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). There will no longer be a differentiation of the three. The spectrum includes those who are quite verbal and are in general education placements to those who are non-verbal and placed in highly restrictive classrooms and everything in between.
There is no known cure or cause for ASD to date, leaving families not only filled with grief, but also baffled by the enigma of autism. They search for answers only to be faced with more questions. What doctor should I go to? What resources do I pursue? What treatment is the best for my child? Depending on who they go to they are undoubtedly going to be given different answers as everyone has an opinion about what a person with an ASD needs. Whether they are 2 or 22, every government agency and now insurance carrier wants to be able to dictate what a person with ASD should or should not get in terms of services. The families in search of answers are left with trying to make sense of who can do what for their loved ones. Every person with an ASD is unique as is their family and therefore there is no cookie cutter treatment option for each person or family. Families should be aware of what methods are backed by research and what the research says about the treatment of individuals with ASD. Since resources are finite, it is imperative that resources are not wasted on treatment options that are ineffective and not backed by research. What we do know is that those who have been diagnosed with an ASD require early intensive and comprehensive intervention. The sooner families can get their loved ones in for treatment the better. The longer families wait the more difficult it will be to address their loved ones needs.
In light of the need for services by those impacted by autism the recent insurance mandate in California has provided accessibility to services that would otherwise have been denied to some. The caveat to that however is that some families are now financially responsible for services that were once free. Does the benefit of having accessibility to services through insurance outweigh the cost of having some financial responsibility for those services? For many it is a resounding yes. Without the appropriate supports and intervention our society loses the many gifts that each and every person who has an ASD can give to us; without the appropriate supports individuals with an ASD can very easily become a lost generation of people who are unable to give back to our society not because they can’t but because they don’t know how.
Here are red flags to look for if you are concerned that a loved one may be impacted by an ASD:
∗ Unresponsive to name by 12 months
∗ Does not point to objects to show interest by 14 months
∗ Lack of pretend play by 18 months
∗ Avoids eye contact, wants to be alone
∗ Obsessive interests
∗ Flaps hands, rocks body, spins in circles
∗ Trouble with understanding other’s feelings
∗ Delayed speech and language skills
∗ Gives unrelated answers to questions
∗ Gets upset with minor changes
∗ Reacts unusually to sound, smell, taste, look or feel
(Center for Disease Control & Prevention)
Rosa E. Patterson, MS BCBA
Autism Behavior Services, Inc.