Autism: Pieces of a puzzle

There is a blue light on at the front door of a home. There is a ribbon covered in puzzle pieces. Tears and love are breaking down the stigma of autism with public awareness.

The school guidance counselor recommended that “Sue” consider having her son checked for ADHD. Later she amended it to autism, Asperger’s, to be precise.

Sue, upset that anyone would want to label her child, refused to discuss it further. But as time passed and she observed her son, she began to see things. She could no longer deny there was something going on. Her husband, though, insisted there was nothing wrong with the child. And it certainly didn’t come from his side of the family. She saw challenges ahead, stress and strain on the marriage.

Autism spectrum disorders include social impairment, communication difficulties and repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. Socially impaired children make little eye contact, fail to respond or interact with others, and don’t respond to emotional cues.

“Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges,” says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency estimates that about one in 88 children has been identified with autism. In 2002, the estimate was one in 150 and in 2006, one in 110. They suggest that the increase in number of children diagnosed with an ASD is because of the tools used to make those diagnoses.

More boys than girls are autistic. More Black and Hispanic children have been identified. This doesn’t mean they are lower in intelligence. They understand the world differently than others. They react to people and events differently because of the way their brain processes information.

“ASDs affect each person in different ways, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction, problems with communication and highly focused interests or repetitive activities. But there are differences in when the symptoms begin or are first noticed and in how the symptoms affect a person’s functioning,” advises a report from the ADDM Network (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network). You can read the full report at

Research shows that both genetic and environmental factors are involved in whether a person will have an ASD. Children who have a parent who is ASD has a higher risk, as well as children born to older parents. There may be a genetic or chromosomal condition in the person, such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis or other genetic or chromosome condition. Some prescription drugs taken during pregnancy have been linked to higher risk of ASD. Premature birth babies and low birth weight babies are also at greater risk of ASD.

What can parents do? Track your child’s development. A baby book with all the information for their first seven years-first smile, first time the baby laughs out loud, their eyes follow an object, they sit up by themselves, they stand by themselves the first timeall of those things will speak to you. You can find the same information at the website link provided earlier in this article. If something about your child doesn’t seem quite right, talk to the physician who provides your child’s health care about your concerns.

“Sue’s” husband did get on board with the diagnosis and the family is making sure the child has what he needs to be healthy and happy.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and other mental health issues. FRC can be reached at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, FRC is funded, in part, by United Way of Northern Columbiana County. Visit the website at