Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Did you know that April is "Autism Awareness Month" and April 2nd was "World Autism Awarness Day"?This is actually the second post I've done this week about autism, and now you know why. Just a couple of years ago, it was reported that 1 in every 110 children were diagnosed with autism. Now, it is a staggering 1 in every 88 children... and, to break it down even further, 1 in every 54 boys and 1 in every 252 girls are diagnosed with autism. As you can see, there is a disproportionate number of boys diagnosed with autism and that has consistently been the case for some time now. So, I think the timinig of the news I'm about to share is not only appropriate, but also encouraging.
A new study shows that about 10% of children who are severely affected by autism at age 3 seem to have bloomed by age 8, leaving behind many of the condition’s crippling deficits. And, while these "bloomers" still retain some symptoms of autism, like the tendency to rock back and forth when stressed or to repeat the same behavior over and over, they have become what experts dub, "high functioning", according to the study published today in "Pediatrics". This means their social skills and their ability to communicate have vastly improved.
A child at the low end of the communication scale might not be able to talk or even make any sounds, explained the study’s lead author, Christine Fountain, a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University. Those at the other end of the scale "would have a broad vocabulary, understand the meaning of words and use them in the appropriate contexts, understand the meaning of story plots, and carry on complex conversations", she explained.
Similarly, a child with a low score on the social scale would have problems interacting with others and would not be able to make friends or socialize. At the high end of the scale, is a child who "would initiate one-on-one interactions with both peers and others in familiar and unfamiliar settings, initiate and maintain friendships, and not need encouragement to participate in social activities", Fountain said.
So-called "bloomers" appear to be edging up towards the upper half of both those scales. Christine Fountain and her colleagues didn’t expect to see kids jump from the low end to the high end in just a few short years. "It was a surprise to see how much improvement they showed and how quickly", Fountain said. "That's kind of a hopeful message. This is hopeful because the odds of such big improvements might rise if more kids got the right kind of therapy early in life", Ms.Fountain said.
The researchers studied the records of 6,975 California children who had been diagnosed with autism. They found that many of the children showed improvements between ages 3 and 8, but the "bloomers", showed startling progress, moving from the most severely affected to some of the highest functioning. Kids who are older can continue to make progress, but more slowly, experts say. While many of their symptoms fade, they still retain the autism diagnosis.
Fountain and her colleagues suspect, after scrutinizing the differences between children who bloomed and those who didn't, that it likely comes down to which kids were able to get early, intensive therapy since the children who improved the most had parents with more education and financial wherewithal. Researchers say that it's possible there might be something inherently different about the children themselves who are "bloomers," but they don’t know that for sure.
As they delved into the "bloomers" backgrounds, the researchers found that these children were more likely than others to have mothers with at least a high school education and to come from a higher socio-economic class. Unfortunately, they didn't have information on the fathers. "Bloomers" also tended not to have any intellectual disabilities.
The findings don't surprise autism expert Tamar Apelian. “Most children need about 30-40 hours a week of intervention", said Dr. Apelian, a staff psychologist at the Autism Evaluation Clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles. "What's tricky is being able to navigate the system to get the therapy, especially with the state budget crisis. The parents who do this seem to have more means and they can hire an advocate or a lawyer."
And, that's where parents' backgrounds come into play. You know the drill... those who have the means can get the best therapy and treatment for their child. And, then there are those that don't, yet I see this as one of those issues where every family, regardless of means, should be able to have proper and equal treatment for their children. Call me a socialist or whatever you will, but that's how I feel. And yet, eternal optimist that I am, I am heartened by this news.