Both of my nephews have autism. They are SO sweet and full of love and I couldn't adore anything more. For the past four years my family and friends have walked as a team to help raise funds and awareness to battle this disorder that has reached epidemic proportions. And we're doing it again this year!

Let me fill you in on some of the basics about this disorder.

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

-1 in 110 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 & behavior, and repetitive & odd behaviors

-No two children with autism are alike. My nephew Elijah is more severe than his older brother, Noah. Elijah is 9 and is nonverbal (doesn't speak words), became fully potty trained when he was 7 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 11 and now has a large vocabulary of words. He is potty trained and loves to help his younger brother. Both he and Elijah are in special classes in the public schools. Noah loves to learn and enjoys playing on his laptop and iPod Touch.

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 can trigger autism in children born with a genetically pre-disposed weaker immune system.

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!

This will be my 5th annual Walk for Autism. And I plan to keep walking, sharing and raising money until the cause and cure is found. The walk is taking place in Phoenix on Saturday, October 1st. If you'd like to join us in the walk or if you are willing to make a contribution towards helping to find the cause and cure of autism, you can join here (it's so much fun & everyone is welcome!!) or contribute here. If everyone who reads this blog donates just $5 or $10, we would being doing something HUGE. Please consider a small donation that will make a lasting difference in a HUGE undertaking. Our team goal is to raise $4,000 this year. And so far we've only raised $1,135. We have a ways to go and could use your help!

Thanks so much for reading! I can't wait for the day when we will look back on this time in history with gratitude that we have beaten this awful disorder!
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