After four years of motherhood, Emmanuelle Assor's life was turned upside down when her young son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It was at that moment that she decided to get involved and write about the subject. Why? Because hope drives parents, and hope for a better world begins with raising public awareness and understanding of developmental problems in children, problems that change lives.
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I recently noticed that for the most part, when I talk about Autism the people around me don't really know what I am talking about. They all seem to have a vague idea about the problem, but no more. I constantly have to repeat the same information: "It's a spectrum," "a PDD is the same this as an ASD, an Autism Spectrum Disorder," "Sleeping problems and food selectivity are linked to Autism disorders," "No, I don't believe my child is autistic due to vaccines, something was different since birth"... The list of questions is usually the same and it is a long one. I even heard someone say "Autism is in right now!"
This demonstrates clearly that we still need to educate people about Autism or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, the "official" term used by healthcare professionals). Personally, I have learned through my extensive research and reading that even if I consider myself to be very educated on the subject, there is always more to learn. Autism is a complex and fascinating topic.
Here are a few things I learned this year that I would like to share with those who want to better understand what people affected by this disorder are going through.
1) An ASD is a disorder that invades a person's development as it can affect all areas of activity: language, socialization, hygiene, motor skills, sleep, nutrition, sensory issues. Symptoms vary from person to person and can be mild to severe (hence the notion of a spectrum). ASDs affect boys much more frequently than girls. Boys are five times more likely to have an ASD than girls (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
2) When you find out your child has an ASD, you should not feel responsible for it. It is useless to feel guilty or to look around for someone or something to blame. We don't know enough about the cause (or causes) of Autism yet. A variety of studies are exploring different possibilities. Until someone proves otherwise it is not vaccines that cause Autism -- no serious scientific study has been able to prove it -- but rather an assortment of factors including genetics and environmental factors. Recent studies revealed that fathers over 40 are six times more likely to have a child with an ASD, which indicates a possible link between spontaneous mutations in the sperm and ASD (Neale, B.M, 2012).
We also know that families with a child who has an ASD are at a higher risk of having a second child who has the condition, which confirms a genetic link. Research is also being done on environmental factors like pollution, the role of hormones such as oxytocin (Tyzio, Nardou, Ferrari et al, 2014), and the presence of antibodies during the mother's pregnancy.
3) Currently, the lack of services is dire. Ask any parent of an autistic child -- getting answers to your questions before the diagnosis, and then trying to receive services afterwards is almost an impossible task! This is revolting, not to say unacceptable. With a diagnosis of ASD in hand -- a diagnosis that can take over a year to get -- you are told to call the rehabilitation centre in your area, where you will learn that the waiting list for services (ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, nutritionist, etc.) is an average of 24 months. Only those who are well off financially can obtain private services for their "handicapped" child before it is too late -- the best time to intervene is before the age of 6, according to the 2013 Report of the Auditor General of Quebec.
4) Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is as though the wires in the brain are connected, but differently than the "norm." Many autistic people do not suffer from an intellectual disability and are very intelligent. Their intelligence is different, as they do not see the world like us; they are deeply sensitive, have surprising talents and diverse skills.
5) We have a lot to gain from seeing the world from a new angle. Soon, everyone will know someone who has an ASD, and when that day comes it will be more understood and well accepted. Until then, there is a lot of work to do, because Autism isn't a "fad" but rather a real societal problem that affects an increasing number of people.
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According to a parental survey conducted by the CDC, prevalence has increased from 1 in 86 in 2007. In 2012, the CDC estimated that 1 in 88 kids have an ASD, an estimate that is not incorrect, but relies on different sources. Rather than parental report, it looked at medical and school records to determine prevalence.
Autism is found in 1 in 54 boys, compared to 1 in 252 girls.
According to the NIH, early indicators include: No babbling by age 1, no single words by 16 months, poor eye contact and more. (Click here for more information from NIH.)
According to the NIMH, both genetic and environmental factors could contribute.
Autism is treated with therapy, education plans and medication. Doctors and scientists say that early identification and intervention for children with an ASD can help them thrive in academically and socially in the future.
Even when multiple vaccines are given to a child on the same day, they are still not at risk of developing autism.
Studies have also shown that if a child with an ASD has an identical twin, the other will be affected anywhere from 36-95 percent of the time.
Children whose language skills regress before they turn 3 have been found to have a higher risk of developing epilepsy.
These disorders include Bipolar Disorder, Fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends children be screened when the are 9, 18 and 24-30 months.
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