There is no question that autism is on the rise and the statistics speak volumes about this dramatic increase," says Michelle Rowe, Ph.D., a professor of health services at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.
She reports that this year alone it is estimated that 24,000 children will be diagnosed.
"It's important for people to understand the higher number of diagnoses is not because the criteria for autism has expanded," explains Rowe. "It is actually harder now than it was in 1980, when autism was first introduced as a disorder, to meet the criteria."
Rowe credits early intervention with helping children with autism meet their full potential, but understands that it can be tricky to point out signs in the very young. She says that parents can begin seeing "red flags" as early as 12 months if they know what to look for.
"Babies that don't babble, point or make gestures by 12 months should be checked," she suggests. "Also, if they've made no single words by 16 months, and no two-word phrases by 24 months. Other possible concerns are a heightened sensitivity to sounds, smells, light, touch and objects such as clothing or food."
According to Rowe, the most significant research finding in the field of autism over the last year was the discovery that only one percent of cases is the direct result of family genetics, which leaves the other 99 percent resulting from environmental factors or a combination of environment and genetics.
With all the focus on the child, families of children with autism can often feel overwhelmed. Rowe stresses the importance of pacing and refueling.
"A lifetime of helping a child with autism is like running a series of marathons; some may even describe it as running a marathon every day," she says. "Children never flourish in an environment with burned out parents. The field is filled with wonderful therapists, physicians, and teachers, and there are many other families living with the challenges autism presents to help provide support and share information."
For more research, advice and information, visit the Opposing Views Autism Center.
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