Saturday, October 06, 2007

One of the most devasting things a parent can hear is that their child has autism. Where does it come from? What can cure it? How is it treated? Is my child ever going to be normal? How do I get help? The questions are endless. Its overwhelming, devasting and life altering, not only for your child but the entire family.
Most parents suspect something is wrong with their child long before a diagnosis confirms it. Either from birth they have felt things being off-the child is inconsolable, unresponsive to affection, has odd sleeping patterns-or the child is not meeting developmental milestones at appropriate times. It might just be a mother's intuition stating that they just don't feel right about how their child is growing without something concrete to back it up. Whatever the case, it has lead them to have their child tested and then they receive the devastating news.
Autism. Its sounds like a death sentence. It is incurable. It is a pervasive developmental disorder that will invade every aspect of your child's life. It is manageable, with the right treatments, therapies and lots of love, respect and understanding. If the parent lets it, it can take over your life.
It is not a death sentence-either the physical kind or the death of dreams. With the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed-some put the instances at 1 in 150 or 1 in 166 (with boys more likely ot be affected than girls), there also is increased hope. Will it be cured in our lifetimes? Possibly, just as there is the possibility of a cure for cancer or diabetes. First, the experts need to agree on some commonalities of the disorder and set treatment standards before they can work on a cure.
Autism is considered a spectrum of disorders-from Apserger's Syndrome (think of the eccentric professor or a rocket scientist) to severe (non-verbal, locked in their own world). No one has standardized testing for autism yet, and where a child falls on the spectrum is subjective. One doctor may categorize a child as Asperger's where another doctor may categorize the same child as profoundly autistic, just based on their own observations. There are some commonalities that make up the autism diagnosis-lack of eye contact, resistence to physical affection, horrible tempter tantrums, poor eating and sleeping habits, pica and pica like behavior (eating non-food items), failure to meet developmental milestones at age appropriate levels. Therein lies the rub-there are a myriad of causes to these vague symptoms. Does the child have ear infections? That may cause the temper tantrums and resistence to affection. Is there an eye problem? Are they iron deficient?
Most children are diagnosed off a questionniere, which is extremely subjective. A parent who is exasperated or does not spend much time wth their child (for whatever reason) may complete it in such a way it could lead to a false diagnosis. Parents have to be careful since autism is now the diagnosis du jour-it can explain away all the problems parenting presents and can lead to making excuses for poor behavior or skills.
By standardizing testing there will be more consistancy in diagnosing and providing treatment. Another roadblock is that there is no standardized treatment protocol for autism. If a child moves, say from New York to Atlanta, he or she will be receiving different treatments. Experts do not agree on what works or doesn't work. By promoting research into what can help manage the disorder, like we do with diabetes can help these kids grow and blossom.

No comments: