BLACKFOOT â€” With autism in the news lately, and with April being National Awareness Month, Kris Jaques, OTR/L, owner of Camp Hippo, shared some of her knowledge recently.
She began with a young mother's story.
"He was my first child. Dark hair and dark eyes and an engaging although infrequent smile. He was extremely smart. Talking sentences at 11 months and telling us how he wanted to be a paleontologist at the age of 2. When he started pre-school and interacting with more peers, we noticed some behaviors. The little guy had a difficult time transitioning, sharing toys, getting over-stimulated and having meltdowns. Even after this we thought that maybe it was just a matter of his personality. Not a medical condition. It wasn't until first grade that he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome," said the mother who wished to remain anonymous. Aspergers Syndrome is a higher-functioning condition that falls under the autism spectrum.
Autism and autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, are general terms for a group of brain development disorders. ASD can be associated with the coordination and attention difficulties as well as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD can excel at math, music, art, and visual skills. Current research suggests that children as young as one year of age can show signs of autism. While validated autism screenings start at 16 months of age.
If you are concerned about your child's development, please read the following signs, Jaques said. No big smiles or joyful expressions by six months; no back and forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months; no babbling by 12 months; no back and forth gestures such as reaching, pointing, showing, or waving by 12 months; no words by 16 months; no meaningful two-word phrases by 24 months; and any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age. By the age of 3 children should have a wide range of emotions, dress and undress themselves, and understand taking turns with peers.
There is no cure for autism. If your child has autism, early intervention may be his/her best opportunity to maximize their life skills. It's estimated 1 out of every 54 boys and 1 out of 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. By comparison this affects more people than diabetes, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and Down Syndrome combined. If you believe your child shows any of these signs, a free screening is available at CAMP Hippo Pediatric Therapy, 208-782-2267.
The boy in our story is now a smart and active 12-year-old who still struggles with making social connections, occasional meltdowns and obsessive behaviors.
His mom said, "While getting the diagnosis of Asperger's was difficult to receive, it has been a blessing in the long run because we know what we are dealing with. We have tools and resources available to help him grow into a well-rounded functioning adult. Being the parent of an Aspie can be an overwhelming and sometimes lonely job. Not many people understand what autism is and think that some of the behaviors are a result of poor parenting."
Autism Awareness Month is an effort to spotlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism. The Autism Society has been celebrating the awareness efforts since the 1970's. This month is a special opportunity to educate and inform the public about autism. Members of the Autism Society urge the public to bring awareness by wearing the puzzle ribbon, a symbol of autism awareness, contacting representatives on a state and federal level and telling them to "Vote 4 Autism", and to check for local autism support groups.