GENESEE COUNTY — Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or simply autism, is a group of neurological developmental disabilities that can cause a number of challenges for the children and individuals it affects, with marked social, communication and behavioral issues. Research indicates that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined.
Autism is the fastest growing disorder currently afflicting children in the United States. At the end of March, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a new report estimating that 1 out of 88 children are now affected with autism, which is up from the previous estimate of 1 out of 110 children. The disorder is found in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but is much more prevalent in boys than girls. In fact, the latest CDC report shows that 1 out of 54 boys will be diagnosed with autism while girlsfacea1in252chanceofhaving autism.
The exact number of autistic children, both nationally and locally, remains unknown because many with the disorder may go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, according to experts in the field. However, it is estimated that the rate of autism in Michigan has increased over 100 percent since 2001, and there are currently more than 15,000 students in Michigan schools identified as autistic.
Autism appears in children within the first three years of their lives, and the first signs of the disorder are usually difficulties in communication. Children with autism will often be slow to develop communication skills, if at all, and usually avoid eye contact.
The disorder is highly irregular, both because it presents itself at different times for different children, and because no two autistic children are exactly alike. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, meaning it ranges in symptoms and severity. Some ASD individuals are able to communicate simply with some level of difficulty, while others lack social awareness and exhibit behavioral problems. On the severe end of the spectrum, autistic children may be entirely non-verbal.
Quite simply, people affected by autism take in sensory information differently and have trouble communicating and relating to other people.
The state of Michigan has been ranked as one of the top 10 worst states in which to raise a child with autism. However, steps are being taken currently, both by the state and private organizations, to raise awareness of ASD and provide lifealtering support to those afflicted by the disorder.
Many school districts across the state, including local school districts within the county, have begun offering autism-related programs to help students improve their social and behavior skills. The Links program pairs ASD students with their classmates throughout the day, allowing the students to work together. Schools that have implemented the peerto peer support program have seen ASD students improving their grades, increasing their attendance, and decreasing problems in the classroom.
There are also a number of local support groups through organizations like Community Mental Health and Inspiring Hearts for Autism in Lapeer County. Parents of autistic children look toward each other for understanding and a helping hand, and the local community is beginning to offer that support as well.
Perhaps the best news of all for families affected by autism came last week when Lt. Governor Brian Calley signed into law a piece of legislation that will, for the first time in the state of Michigan, provide coverage under health insurance to pay for the necessary diagnosis and treatments for autistic children, focusing primarily on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Occupational Therapy.
Early intervention and treatment is the best thing for children with autism, and the sooner treatments like ABA are implemented, the better the life of an autistic child can be. All of Michigan, especially here in the local community, continues to honor Autism Awareness Month through the end of April, and continues to support families with autism all year round.