Friday, September 28, 2007

1 in 166

Thursday, September 20, 2007 1:29 PM
I have been hearing so much lately about autism. It seems everywhere I turn, someone is talking about the prevelance, what can be done to help, etc. It could be I am more sensitized since our son has been diagnosed as high functioning autistic. Not even five minutes ago I heard a public service announcement on the radio about autism, stating that 1 in 166 children will be diagnosed as autistic. This is a greater number than children diagnosed with any other life altering disease or disorder.The bare bones reality is, more children than ever are being diagnosed as autistic. What is the cause of the spike in diagnosis? Is it due to better diagnostic tools? Or is there some more nefarious going on here? It is a poorly kept secret that school districts receive additional monies based on the number of special education students. Additionally, resource (what special ed teachers are now called) teachers tend to make 1 1/2 times more than a regular teacher over the course of their careers, (it might be due to having to teach a broader spectrum of students, or requiring additional education/training or it might be combat pay) at least in New York City and the greater New York metropolitan area. The pediatric specialty of developmental pediatrics is relatively new and their main focus seems to be on autism (since it is the fastest growing developmental delay). Careers seem to be built around the disabilty. Ten years ago, the rate of children being diagnosed as ADD or ADHD was skyrocketing out of control. Today, it seems that autism is the diagnosis du jour. Additionally, this seems to be an American problem. Other countries are not reporting the same increases in developmental delays that we are. Are only American children autistic? What is the correlation between nationality and diagnosis? In some cases, a child is diagnosed based solely on a questionnaire that the parents fill out. If you score a certain way on this form (and these are very subjective questions) then your child is autistic. I think that if you have an axe to grind with your child (for whatever reason) then you can answer these questions a certain way, and thereby influence a diagnosis. In some cases, its an excuse for bad parenting. My child simply can not behave properly because they are autistic. Its a free pass. I am not denying that there are many autistic children out there, and that there needs to be research into the causes of autism. Additionally, there needs to be a broader treatment plan that is standardized for these kids. It seems depending on what doctor you go to, you can get a wildly different treatment plan. It should be like for any other childhood disease-develop a standard protocol so that parents who may need to move to a new area won't panic. If a child had cancer, there are certain standard treatments for that cancer. You could go to New York, Sioux Falls or Los Angeles and you would receive the same standard of care and relatively the same types of treatment. With autism, it varies from place to place and doctor to doctor. The very overwhelming fact is, if currently 1 in 166 children are autistic, one day they will grow up. What is going to happen when they reach adulthood? Are we as a society going to have to put safeguards in place. How are we going to deal with an entire generation that has profound developmental issues? Most autistic children are unable to cope with deviation from a schedule/routine. How are we going to teach these children-when they become adults-to deal with change? Change is part of everyday life, and if they are unable to cope with it, how are they going to cope with society at large? Another big part of autism is behavioral issues. Many autistic children have meltdowns or massive temper tantrums to deal with the stresses of their lives. While in school they have a chill out area to prevent problems. Whats going to happen when they get to the real world? Are companies going to be mandated to use certain construction materials because they prevent sensitivities? Be required to have chill out rooms, or not use cubicles because they are limiting? Will restaurants be required to have noise free zones so as to avoid sensory overload? Will all restaurants, etc. be forced to provide specialized menus to meet the dietary needs for this generation of autism?These are very real questions that need to be addressed. We keep diagnosing these kids, but we don't look forward to the future. How are we as a society going to provide for this generation? Will social security be overloaded in the future because of requests for disability? What about Medicaid? Our mental health system? Where do we go from here?

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