Sunday, April 15, 2007

April: Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness month. These are my two nephews: Elijah (5) and Noah (6). They are the loves of my life. They are SO sweet and full of love and I couldn't adore anything more. They are both autistic. And it absolutely breaks my heart. I've been laying in bed unable to get to sleep the last two nights because I'm so angry about Autism. Let me fill you in on some of the basics about this disorder and hopefully it will help you to understand why.

Autism is a complex disorder that has no known cause or cure.

1 in 150 children are diagnosed with some form of autism. For boys, the number is 1 in 94.
This makes it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and span 3 general areas:
-Language development
-Social development and behavior
-Repetitive and odd behaviors

No two children with autism are alike. My nephew Elijah is more severe than his older brother, Noah. Elijah is 5 and is nonverbal, not yet potty trained and has difficulty being in new environments with people who are unfamiliar to him. He is very frustrated with his inability to communicate his needs. He loves to do certain activities over and over again such as watch the same videos endlessly, throw rocks, and jump in the pool over and over.

Noah is 6 and now has a large vocabulary of words. He is still unable to form spontaneous sentences and largely communicates through one or two word phrases. He is potty trained and loves to help his younger brother. Both he and Elijah are in special classes in the public schools with one on one attention from teachers. Noah loves to learn and enjoys practicing his flash cards of vocabulary words, shooting basketball hoops and lining up his toys in certain patterns.

There are some theories about the potential causes of autism. It is generally agreed that there is a genetic predisposition in children with autism that causes them to be susceptible to environmental triggers. A controversial theory that has been refuted by the medical community but is strongly held by a group of parents and a few scientists is that immunization shots given at a young age trigger autism. This is a lengthy discussion that I'm not going to go into here, but if you're interested, here are a few videos to check out on the subject:

Mercury Toxicity and Autism

Jim Adams, Autism & Chelation on Dateline NBC part 1

Jim Adams, Autism & Chelation on Dateline NBC part 2

I help my sister take the boys to a doctors appointment every week where they get chelation treatment. They are injected with a medication that helps rid their body of the poisonous toxins such as mercury and lead that their bodies are unable to process on their own. Their urine is collected and tested and we get reports of the amount and types of metals that are coming out of their bodies. This is somewhat of an experimental treatment but seems to be helping many children with autism.

One last thing I wanted to share on autism--and if you're still reading at this point, you are awesome!--are some early signs of Autism. These are important to know so that you can watch your own children and possibly help other parents out who you know. The earlier Autism is detected the more successful treatment can be. Here are some "red flags" to be on the watch for:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months or thereafter
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No two-word meaningful phrases (without imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech or babbling or social skills at any age

Remember that Autism is very complex and mysterious at this time so no two children will display the exact same behaviors or symptoms. But these are some general things to look for.

One of the most frustrating things to me is that this epidemic is largely ignored by the medical community. Doctors are not taught about it in medical school. Parents take their children in to their pediatrician with concerns about their child's development and they are told that they are over-reacting and not to worry about it. And there is very little being done to find a cure. The effort is definitely out of proportion to the size and extremity of the epidemic. It breaks my heart to think of what we, as a society, may be unknowingly doing to an entire generation of children. We've got to put an end to this disorder.

If you are interested in finding out more about what you can do to be involved, check out these sites:

Autism Speaks
Cure Autism Now

Thanks for reading what has to be my longest post yet! I would love to hear anything you have to say--leave me a comment!

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mcewen said...

Thanks so much for posting this during Autism Awareness Month. I'm hoping that by May there will be so many more people in the world willing to give these kids an even break.
Best wishes

12:53 PM

Daniel & Jess said...

you are a thoughtful sister and aunt!!!!!!! i love you my friend!!! =0) thanks for sharing all this much needed information!!!!

9:10 PM

Anonymous said...

So well said my beautiful daughter! May we as a society soon get a grip on this very debilitating disease. Thanks so for helping Natalie out with the boys - so often the thanks are left unsaid and they should not be - you are an awesome sister!

Love, Mom

8:40 AM


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