Autism: Do You Know What That Word Means?

By Michelle Bodine

Michelle Bodine is a mom of four kids, two of whom are on the Autism Spectrum. Michelle works to promote Autism awareness throughout the region, she has served on the board of directors for the Autism Society of Wa- Tri-Cities Chapter, and works with the Richland School District to implement changes for Autism students. She also manages www.essentiallychel.com.

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a general term for complex disorders of brain development characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, sleep and gastrointestinal issues, and even heightened memory or excellence in areas of music, math or art.

Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder -not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) are all part of the Autism Spectrum. The upcoming changes in the DSM5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th addition that is used in the medical field to assist in diagnosing Autism, will combine these spectrum diagnostics into the simple heading of Autism.

Current statistics show that as many as 1 in 88 children in America, 1 in 54 boys, are on the Autism Spectrum. More children are diagnosed with Autism each year than with juvenile Diabetes, AIDS, and cancer combined. As many as 70% of those diagnosed with Autism also have a co-morbid diagnosis of another neurological disorder such as Epilepsy, Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, and ADHD. It is nearly three times more likely for a sibling of a child with Autism to also be diagnosed. While no one single cause has been discovered pinpointed, a combination of genetic and environmental factors as well as difficulties during birth have been linked to an increased risk.

At first glance the list of symptoms (fig. 1) can be overwhelming and a parent with a newly diagnosed child can quickly become discouraged for their future. Because Autism is a spectrum disorder there is a vast degree of ways it can effect development. Those with less severe symptoms are more likely to remain undiagnosed until they enter school or even until reaching teen years or adulthood. Though it is a life-long condition, all children and adults can benefit from interventions and therapies with many adults on the spectrum leading healthy and self-sustaining lives. Sometimes accessing these services can be difficult, thankfully we live in a community with a variety of services available. (fig. 2)

When our oldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age eleven, my husband and I were concerned about what his future held. At the time he had difficulty interacting with his peers, struggled to communicate, became agitated in busy places, and was more content to spend time alone. An unfortunate part of being at the high functioning end of the Autism Spectrum means that he didn’t qualify for many outside services when he was younger. I launched into researching ways to help him from home instead and am amazed at how far he has come. We have worked on his social skills, learned activities that help strengthen his muscles and coordination, found ways for him to release his stress safely, and helped him develop his sense of humor and irony. Because those with Autism often have allergies and difficulty processing out chemicals they are exposed to, we have also focused on more natural remedies and supplements.

Aside from supports for him though, supports for the rest of the family have been vital to our family’s growth. Being a part of support groups and making friends with other Autism families is a wonderful way to remind us that we aren’t alone in this journey. Our younger three children, one of which also has high functioning Autism, have also benefited from social groups at school and therapy activities at home. My nine year old daughter now takes every chance to help with the special education class at her school. Finding a sitter for a child with Autism can be nearly impossible so we have focused a lot on doing things as a family which has really strengthened our bond with each other.

Seven years later our son is an amazing young man, nearing his eighteenth birthday, who loves to hang out with his friends, and is preparing to graduate from high school. The journey to this point wasn’t without it’s struggles, and some days were extremely overwhelming, but seeing who he has become makes every minute worth it.

 

Some symptoms of Autism include:

-Poor communication/vocabulary

-Lack of eye contact and facial expression

-Lack of initiated interaction with others

-Need for routine

-Lack of gesturing or response to others

-Limited or ‘robotic’ speech

-Inability to understand social/facial cues

-Obsession with a topic

-Awkward movements or mannerisms

-Stimming (repetitive/self-calming) behaviors

-Extreme or inappropriate reaction to sensory input

 Tri-City Area Resources:

Responding to Autism Center  (509)396-9230

http://www.respondingtoautism.net/

Children’s Developmental Center  (509)735-1062

http://childrensdevelopmentalcenter.org

Kadlec’s Neurological Resource Center  (509)943-8455

http://www.kadlec.org/index.php/knrc

Yakima Children’s Village   (509) 574-3200

http://www.yakimachildrensvillage.org

 

From Betsy McKee (our model’s mom):

As a mother of an autistic child, I can tell you exactly what autism means to me, but 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have known where to even begin, or even what it really was. Boy have I been educated quickly!

In 2006, I gave birth to twins, Avery and Jackson. I was excited to be a mom and to start off with twins was terrifyingly amazing! Having twins, I was able to see fairly quickly that something wasn’t quite right with Jack, but I was hopeful that I could get him a diagnosis and help.

We visited several doctors and just after his third birthday he was diagnosed. Although that day wasn’t one of the best days of my life, it was the day that things began to change for our family.  He started right away with early intervention preschool and slowly we began to see positive changes, and see him flourish.

Along with Jack getting help, I dove into researching everything I could.  Not only did it educate me on autism, but it helped me to know how to best help him.  I have come to adore his little quirks and appreciate just how far he has come!

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