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Come Inside My World

Libi Astaire

Autism affects some 2 million people in theUnited Statesand tens of millions worldwide. In the past their world was impenetrable to outsiders. Today we have a better grasp of autism, allowing us a glimpse of what it’s like to live in the mind of an autistic.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

autism mind conceptMommy is looking. Why is Mommy looking? I like it when Mommy pours milk. In a cup. The sippy cup. Sippy is a good girl. Sippy doesn’t spill. Sippy is Malki’s cup. Malki’s cup. Malki’s cup. Malki’s cup.

Where’s Malki’s cup? Why doesn’t Mommy get Malki’s cup? I said to Mommy I want a drink. I said it. “Malki, do you want milk?” Mommy asked, and I said, “Malki, do you want milk?” I said it.

Oh, no! Why is Mommy putting the milk in the frige? I’m thirsty! Why won’t Mommy get Sippy? Why won’t Mommy give me a drink? I said it! Why doesn’t Mommy hear me? I said it! I said it!

MALKI, DO YOU WANT MILK! MALKI, DO YOU WANT MILK! MALKI, DO YOU WANT MILK!

Malki is not a real child, but she could be. And as a child with autism, she would have plenty of company. Not so long ago, researchers were saying that one out of every hundred children in the United States has some sort of autism spectrum disorder, ranging from having an intellectual disability (IQ below 70) to having above-average intellectual capabilities. Today the statistic is one out of 88 children, with boys being three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Health officials expect the rate of prevalence to continue to increase.

What causes autism? The medical community still doesn’t know for sure, mainly because autism isn’t one single disorder. It’s a group of related disorders with many different causes; each child is his or her own unique world. Researchers have discovered that autism is caused by a complex and variable combination of genetic and environmental factors that influence a child’s early brain development. Parents who are older, difficulties during birth that involve oxygen deprivation to the baby’s brain, and an expectant mother’s exposure to high levels of pesticides or air pollution, are a few of the factors that scientists believe may put a newborn at a higher risk for developing autism. But they do not, in and of themselves, cause autism.

What the medical community does know is that the sooner a child with autism gets professional help, the better chance that child will have of learning how to cope in what is for them a bewildering world. What are the signs to look for? Although some of the most common signs of autism don’t develop until the child is between two to three years of age, these warning signs can be seen during the child’s first two years:

  • No big smiles (6 months)
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, no facial expressions (9 months)
  • No babbling or pointing (12 months)
  • No words (16 months)
  • No two-word meaningful phrases that are original to the child, and not just repetitions of what the child has heard someone else say (24 months)
  • A loss of babbling, speech, or social skills (any age)

When parents suspect their child might have autism, it’s important to have the child screened by knowledgeable professionals, such as a developmental pediatrician, a neurologist, and either a psychiatrist or psychologist. The child might also be sent to an audiologist to test for hearing loss, to a speech and language therapist to assess the child’s language skills, and to an occupational therapist to assess the child’s motor skills.

Medical experts stress that there’s no magic cure for autism, and that even with a comprehensive program of therapy, progress is usually very slow and bumpy. But whereas it was once thought that no one with autism could ever improve, today progress is being made and people with normal to above-average intellectual capabilities are learning to manage their autism in amazing ways.

 

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