Autism. The word strikes fear in the hearts of many parents of young children. Autism involves neurological impairments that inhibit social and communication abilities.
Asperger's Syndrome. An extremely high functioning form of autism, in which a person may still communicate with others yet has difficulty reading social cues accurately.
Pervasive Developmental Disorder. The spectrum of disorders that includes both Asperger's and Autism; a continuum of neurological disorder impacting the social and communicative realms. Often people who are diagnosed with any form of pervasive developmental disorder will repeat motions or words, form strong connections to inanimate objects, and/or exercise rigid routines.
So why write about autism? The number of autistic children is growing astronomically in our country, and we don't know why. One in 128 children will be diagnosed with autism. That's nearly one percent of children who will be diagnosed with a devastating illness of which we understand very little about.
Several years ago, there was research conducted regarding the MMR vaccine and a potential link to autism. Most children receive the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) around age two, which coincidentally also seems to be the same time that many parents and pediatricians notice the beginning signs of autism. Children who should be talking don't. Children who should be interacting with their environments aren't. Some children have very rigid routines that they can't give up, or favorite toys that they seem bound to.
We all know kids who have a favorite toy, or ones who like things done a certain way. These can be chalked up to developmental milestones or temperament in many cases. The difference is that a child with pervasive developmental disorder seems a slave to their routine. They are more attached to their favorite toy than a loving caregiver.
Initial and controversial research indicated that yes, there may be a link between the vaccine and autism. This was finally the answer so many parents and professionals were looking for. However, for a study to be considered valid, it must be repeated and the same results found to be true. To the best of my knowledge, this study was not repeated, leaving parents and professionals in a quandry: could it be true? Could we really be vaccinating our children in a way that caused autism?
In the last few weeks, another article was published in which the authors claimed that the original research was fabricated and there is no causal link between autism and the MMR vaccine. If this new article is correct, it leaves us all back where we started, only now looking at an increase in the diagnosis of children with this disorder. At the time the first article was published, one in 150 children could be expected to be diagnosed; today, it is one in 128. This leaves one to wonder what we will be looking at in ten more years.
The problems with this disorder run farther than figuring out what causes it. There are a variety of treatments that therapists follow as well as autism-specific behavior training. But many times treatment--even common therapeutic treatment--is expensive and not covered under insurance. Parents cannot afford to provide their children with the therapeutic means necessary to improve their neurological functioning. I liken this to one having a stroke and being denied physical, speech, or occupational therapies. We know autism is a neurological disorder. We also know that using a variety of interventions, especially early ones, can help children to function at a higher level. But for most families, the only interventions offered to them come in the public realm, through an already burdened school system. Therapeutic services are covered for almost all other disorders. Why not autism?
Why not autism? It's easier to dump the problem on an already-overburdened school system. Autism-specific treatment is intensive and expensive. And there's no guarantee that the child will make significant progress, although many do. My educated guess would be if there were a powerful lobby in Washington fighting for autism, it may be covered under insurance in some way. Until more people are willing to insist on this type of coverage, children will continue to suffer and insurance companies will continue to avoid responsibility.
It is common for schools to attempt to put children with autism in the same classroom to teach specific skills they may need. This may be suitable for part of the day for some children; however, including autistic children in regular environments with well trained staff (a practice called inclusion) often results in tremendous social and communicative growth.
We don't have the answers for autism, nor do we have all the answers in how to treat it. But denying these children the services they need to be successful is, in my opinion, criminal. School systems can only handle so much of the responsibility. These children need the opportunity to work with private therapists on a regular basis. And we need to continue our research, and fast--we are facing an autism epidemic.
If you are interested in advocating for autism or even just gaining more information, you can access the Think Autism page on facebook. Let your feelings be known on this important matter. It's important for no child to be allowed to fall through the cracks, never mind one in 128.
Thanks for reading, pass it on, and click on the links. :-)