Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pleading for money

If current estimates hold true, 10% of today’s children will be diagnosed with autism. It is a scary diagnosis for parents, as it takes away all their hopes for the future. Unfortunately, depending on where you live in the United States depends on the diagnositic measures used. In some parts of the country, direct observation methods are used, in others doctors rely on questionieres filled out by parents and caregivers. Standardization of care is necessary for this 10% of the population affected by this disorder. By combining methods, children can be diagnosed better and more efficiently.
Autism affects all aspects of a child’s life. It affects their social interactions, their education, and physical health. Many autistic children suffer from digestive issues (ranging from constipation to diarrhea), chronic ear infections and sleep disturbances. It is possible to treat each of these issues separately, and in a lot of cases only the physical symptoms are treated. Access to education is limited by where a child lives-the more affluent a community, the more likely it is for a child to receive therapies in school that will be beneficial to their lives. By implementing a national protocol for autism, special education and resource teachers will be able to use the same methods and research to benefit these children. We currently have national standards for education due to No Child Left Behind. However, our children who have been diagnosed as autistic are being left behind.
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder. That is, children diagnosed with it are on a continuum from being considered high functioning to locked in their own worlds. With a high functioning child, they can lead almost “normal” lives. However, the further down the spectrum a child goes, the less likely it is for them to be able to assimilate into society. By developing a set of protocols for autistic children, it will help guide schools and caregivers to appropriate methods of discipline, education and integration.
Since the rates of diagnosis are staggering (it is an epidemic), something needs to be done in order to manage the lives of these children. As they grow up into adulthood, special considerations will need to be made in our society to manage their disability. While under 18, most autistic children have an IEP (individualized education plan) that guarantees their right to an education and provide services and therapies to help them with their daily lives. These services include speech, occupational and physical therapies as well as classroom accommodations. As this generation grows up, there are no protections for them once they become of age. Instead of waiting for them to age out of the system and putting them into the great unknown, we should be brainstorming as a country for ways to integrate them into our world.
Standardizing care and developing protocols for autism is the first step in this general direction. There are treatment protocols for other childhood diseases and developmental issues (if you are in California and asthmatic, you receive similar care as if you were in New York). By standardizing the types of care and diagnositic tools, we are guaranteeing that these kids-our future-will receive the best care possible. More research needs to be done into what is causing this epidemic, funding that is extremely important to not only finding a cure, but discovering methods to help these children cope. Please consider funding for autism research as a top priority.

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