"Which of my all important nothings should I tell you first?" ~ Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister

Friday, April 1, 2011

World Autism Awareness Day

Forgive me while I get all PSA-y on you. This is near and dear to my heart. 

Saturday, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day.  

1 in every 110 kids is diagnosed with Autism. That's a 600% increase over 20 years ago.

It's this one that gets me: 1 in 70 boys. What's happening to our boys?

Including this one:

My superman
My seven year old is high-functioning autistic. His autism isn't overly noticeable upon first glance but it comes out in subtle ways, especially if he's having a bad day. My little guy was diagnosed 2 years ago this month and, at that time, the hubby and I wrote up this short summary of Autistic behaviors to share with our friends and family. 

Autism is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood. Symptoms are different for each person and tend to continue through adulthood, though they may become more subtle over time.

For us, it was abnormal speech developement that tipped us off originally. Hearing tests, speech therapy and an Early Intervention Preschool led us to a high-functioning Autism diagnosis when he was 5.

A common sign of Autism is noticeable social impairments; autistic people often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted. They also tend to have impairments in communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behavior

Here are some more information about these three groups of symptoms:

Social Impairments

These become apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants smile and look at others less often and respond less to their own name. Autistic children from 3-5 years old are less likely to approach people spontaneously, or to imitate and respond to emotions, communicate nonverbally, and take turns with others.

My little guy used to be that way when he was younger, but he's pretty social now. Unfortunately he doesn't know his boundaries very well. When he talks to strangers - which he LOVES to do - he often reaches out and touches their clothing, like a zipper, a belt, a pocket, etc. He fiddles with it while he gets his words out. He's not trying to invade your personal space. He's just building a bridge to communicate with you. 

Communication

About a third to a half of individuals with Autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. People with autism have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. It's important to make messages verbal and explicit when talking to them.

Repetitive Behavior
  • Movement that seems purposeless, such as hand flapping, making sounds, head rolling, or body rocking. My dude flaps sometimes. When he realizes what he's doing  he'll say he's a bird and start chirping and trying to "fly" with his flapping arms.
  • Compulsive behavior, such as arranging objects in a certain way.
  • Resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be interrupted when speaking. Oh man. Preparation is key. We prep him until he's over-prepped but we can't prep for everything. An unforeseen something, like a fall on the way to school, can turn into a 30 minute ordeal with him and whichever adult is trying to help him through it. It totally messes with his head when his daily plans are disrupted. Bad mojo.
  • Ritualistic behavior: the performance of daily activities the same way each time, such as an unvarying menu or dressing ritual. Like, "Mom, I can't brush my teeth! I haven't put my shoes on yet!"
  • A limited focus, interest, or activity, such as preoccupation with a single television program or toy. Yep, certain TV programs or movies. More of this when he was younger. It was soothing to him. He memorized movie lines and quoted them incessantly.
1 in 110 kids is A LOT of diagnosed Autistic kids. A LOT. If you are thanking.your.lucky.bleepin'.stars. that you don't have to deal with this in your kids please keep in mind that it's entirely possible your kids will be friends with Autistic kids. Or your sister or brother or cousin will have Autistic kids. Or, if you're a teacher then you certainly will have to teach Autistic kids.

Learn about it. Be AWARE. Next time you see a kid having a meltdown in a store or on a plane then maybe it will be a little easier to understand because maybe, just MAYBE, that kid is Autistic. You won't know. Please don't judge that parent. They are doing the best they can. They need your understanding, your awareness and your support.

That's an important point so please induldge me for a minute on my soapbox: Seriously, if you tell me to shut my kid up or calm him down you will see my fierce Mama Bear side come out and I'll tell you exactly where you can shove your judgment. I've been pretty lucky with my boys, but I've seen mothers harrassed on planes and it sends me through the freakin' roof. I stick up for those moms. I give them encouragement and tell them to ignore the bonehead a-holes who HAVE NO SOUL. And then I leave them alone to deal with their child with, hopefully, a little less stress and a lot more "someonehasmyback-ness." Compassion people. It's not that hard. Soapbox off.  

Be aware. Be compassionate. It takes a village.  

Oh, and do your part to LIGHT IT UP BLUE! for Autism Awareness on April 2! I hear that blue lighbulbs are available at Home Depot and probably other home improvement stores as well.

5 comments:

  1. Great post, Stef! Jamie is so lucky to have you for a mommy.

    p.s. He is absolutely light up the world with sunshine ADORABLE in that picture. He should be the 2011 poster child for Autism Awareness. If that picture doesn't appeal to emotion, nothing does.

    -You know who!

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  2. Thanks for this Stef. I know several Autistic kids (or their parents) and your description of their behaviors I think would be really helpful to people who aren't sure what they are going to encounter. It's excellent. And Jamie, wow. The cutest.

    On another note... re the HUGE increase in Autism over the recent years. I don't know why but I WANT to. I want to know what's different because while I think that many kids just weren't diagnosed in the past but we now recognize them as on 'the spectrum' (my uncle for one) I think there is a pretty obvious truth here, it's going up and it's got to be going up for some reason. I don't say this because I want parents of Autistic kids to feel like they should have done anything different (absolutely NOT). I say this because I feel like it's tied in to our society as a whole. And I think we'd do good by ourselves to recognize that sometimes advancing means reaching a cliff and turning around and going the other way. 180 degress if you will.

    in other news: I'd sure like to have you in my corner the next time someone tells me I'm crazy for having a baby at home. The whole igotyoback thing :)

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  3. Thanks Sham (my anonymous friend) and Joni for the cuteness comments. He really is the bee's knees.

    Joni - I know what you are saying about the increase. There is certainly a lot more awareness and diagnosis of Autism happening now over 20 years ago. It doesn't have to be the "short bus" diagnosis it once was but there are certainly other factors affecting the increase in the diagnosis. There are lots of theories, but the one that really resonates with me the most is a genetic predisposition that is triggered by environmental factors. Just like the increase in cancer (which is now the #1 killer in America). Nobody can tell me that the environment - the pesticides, the air pollution, the chemicals and hormones - don't have a significant role in how our bodies are developing cancers and other diseases at an alarming rate. I think Autism is one of those.

    Btw, my chiro told us this week that all three of his kids were home-birthed and have never received medical care except in 2 instances where they had to have a cast or some stitching. They are ages 8-14. He also said they had never even taken Acetaminophen in their lives. Which, wow, blows my mind.

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  4. Yeah I would guess environmental and probably preservatives too. Scary.

    I'm with him. I hate acetaminophen. I give ibu if I give anything. And I'm still up in the air on whether to fully vaccinate Ella, or partly or even at all. There were 11 vaccines when we were kids. Now there are like 38. Madness. She hasn't been to the ped either. She weighs 23 pounds though so... I think she's alright :)

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  5. Wonderful post Stef! Again, I can't tell you how much I absolutely adore Jamie's smile... he lights up the world and makes me smile every time I see his pictures!

    It sounds like we live parallel lives. Lauren and Jamie are very similar. You are absolutely dead on with having compassion for families who have issues publicly with their children. One NEVER knows. As moms of children with Autism, we are definitely more tuned into observing other children in public. Only once have I had to say something to a very rude couple regarding Lauren's behavior. I told them that she had Autism and that their children should thank their lucky stars that they don't as their parents are insensitive f^cks. I think it embarrassed them immensely and hopefully taught them a little bit about compassion and not judging a book by it's cover.

    It simply amazes me how far our two have come. Good job mom!

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