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Autism Awareness: What is it?

April 8, 2012
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Staff Writer , Salem News

Jenny adored her children. They came into this world in perfect for10 fingers, 10 toes, creamy complexion. She snuggled with them, sang to them, talked to them as if they were intelligent beings from the very beginnings of their lives. She watched them grow through infancy, toddler, and approaching puberty, interacting with them as good parents do. Her sons were well-adjusted, courteous, compassionate, and as close to perfect as human children could be.

School officials shared with her their concerns for her 7-year-old. The first time they spoke with her they suspected ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder).

The second time they amended it to Autism, in particular Asperger's. Jenny was so upset by the labeling they wanted to apply to her son that she took both of her children out of public school and began to homeschool them.

Changing public schools had not helped her older son when he was labeled ADHD and everything that went wrong at school was attributed to him, whether he was responsible or not.

She will tell you her boys are bright. She will admit there are times when her boys are wired. But they are curious about how things work, they like to go out and do things. The younger enjoys video games, "Mario" and "Mortal Combat."

The older is mastering the guitar. But Jenny has noticed a few things. Might school officials have been correct about the Asperger's? April is Autism Awareness Month, a good time to learn more about it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2009 that 1 in 110 births were infants with Autism Spectrum Disorder. One in 70 was a boy. What signs indicate the need for evaluation?

-Lack of or delay in spoken language.

-Repetitive use of words or actions, such as hand-flapping.

-Little or no eye contact.

-Lack of interest in peer relationships.

-Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play.

-Persistent fixation on parts of objects.

Each child is affected differently and at varying degrees, says the National Autism Society.

"Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others."

Asperger's is often referred to as a "high-functioning autism." These are children with normal language skills and normal intelligence. It is less severe, and the child never had the issue of delayed language development. "They seem normal but behave a little differently."

"Individuals with Asperger's Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others; they simply don't know how to do it," says the Autism Society ( "They may be socially awkward, not understanding of conventional social rules, or show lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem to be unengaged in a conversation and not understand use of gestures."

But, how do you know if your child needs evaluation? The Autism Society advises:

-Child doesn't babble or coo by 6 months old.

-Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 12 months.

-Does not say single words by 16 months.

-Does not say two-word phrases on his/her own by 24 months.

-Has any loss of language or social skills at any age.

These symptoms could be indicative of something else, but getting a diagnosis, knowing the problem, is the first step.

The cause(s) of autism are not known. Is it genetic? A brain development problem? Possibly related to environment?

Researchers are looking for answers. Parents and caregivers should seek knowledge and understanding about socialization skills of children in their lives. Next week we will look at the hidden rules of society.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities. For more information about this topic, or about our education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and mental health, contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468 or e-mail,



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