|Autism is on the rise. What can you do?|
No one knows for sure what causes Autism. It could be genetic, but there are also theories about diet, vaccinations and other external stimuli that may cause an onset of symptoms. Autism is usually diagnosed when a child is between 3 and 5 years old.
According to TACA (Talk About Curing Autism), one in 91 children have been diagnosed with Autism, and the numbers are rising. More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. Autism currently costs our country $35 Billion a year and that figure should dramatically rise over the next decade.
To an outsider, an autistic child may be viewed as an unruly child and a judgement is made that the parent or parents don't know how to control their child. This could not be farther from the truth.
There are many symptoms related to Autism. For a complete list, see the link below to PubMed Health. But some of the symptoms are lack of sociability, communication absence or abnormality, avoidance of interactive play, ritualistic or imaginative play. When you combine these symptoms, it makes an Autistic child nearly impossible to fit in and function with his or her peers. School is out of the question, in most cases. Special care and special education will be required for the balance of the child's life.
Another aspect of Autism is violent behavior. Frustration can lead to lashing out. Certain noises can be overwhelming or overstimulating to an Autistic child and send them into an uncontrollable frenzy. Parents of Autistic children have to learn extreme patience, tolerance, and tools to help manipulate their child to just get through the day. These parents should win an award, not be looked at as incompetent.
Autistic children can also have extremely high IQ's. But their mental strengths are unharnessed and not channeled to produce positive behaviors that will help them assimilate into society.
My first introduction to Autism was 30 years ago. A good friend of mine had a 13 year-old son with Autism. The parents had to Autism-proof their home. Their son would frequently climb out of windows and leave the home for extended periods, much to the alarm of the parents. His parents had to have specially installed windows that would only open a distance slightly smaller than their son's head. Keys were needed to leave the house. Cabinets had to be secured.
In one attempt, the parents tied rope around the knobs of a pantry cabinet. Their son walked up to the cabinet, looked at it for a few seconds and simply unscrewed the knobs and the ropes fell to the floor. How many adults would have stood there for days trying to figure out how to get into the cabinet? This child took seconds. Somewhere in his brain he was very high functioning. It is the challenge of the medical and scientific community to tap into that portion of the brain that operates at a higher level than the majority of the community.
The other day, I was in a store and a father was struggling with his Autistic son. The boy looked to be about 15 or 16 years old with bushy hair and a mustache. His father was checking out at the register, but his son kept wandering a few feet from him and pointing at a candy rack. "Come back, Charlie, come back," the father repeated without a response from his son.
After the father paid for his purchases, he tried to escort his son out of the store by grabbing his arm. The son began to punch his father with a closed-fist slapping motion on top of his head. This struggle continued for a minute or two. The father seemed to try to aggravate his son so that he would chase him out of the store. That worked. Now, they were in the parking lot, the father running with his hands covering his head as his son continued to flail at him - the whole time he was yelling, "Don't hurt Daddy. Don't hurt Daddy."
My transaction at the register concluded about the same time the father and son were running out of the story. Open-mouthed customers in the store and coming into the store stopped in their tracks to stare.
I got in my truck and watched in my rear view mirror as the father and son played a cat and mouse game running around the car, the son chasing the father. Several times, they got in the car but never closed the doors. Then, suddenly, the father would leap out of the car and the son would jump out and resume chasing him around the car.
Eventually, the father got on his cell phone and I'm assuming he was calling the boy's mother to try to get her to control his son. As the son listened on the cell phone, he had his hands around his father's head and continued to deliver soft rabbit punches to the back of his head.
For almost twelve minutes this chase, get in the car, jump out of the car, chase routine continued. Finally, they both got in the car and drove off.
What I've described to you is no reflection on the parenting skills of the poor father. Parents with Autistic children can probably relate to a similar drama in their lives. It is not easy.
At one point during the parking lot exchange, a woman stopped and looked like she was about to call 911, mistaking this for an assault.
Just like the stigma of mental illness, public awareness and education regarding Autism need to be increased. We've spent a lot of time on diversity, which is educating people on our differences and similarities; but Autistic children do operate outside the norm and it is easy for the uneducated or ill informed to make judgements.
Science and medicine are doing all they can to find a cure, within the funding they have. But public education is simple - share this article. Tell a friend about someone you know who has an Autistic child. Do it with compassion and empathy.
Many parents have problem children. But those problems are the result of bad choices. Autism is not a choice. It is not something that can be fixed with a concoction of vitamins or a series of shots. It is a lifelong condition that requires more from the parents of the child than they ever imagined. Those that rise to the occasion are truly incredible people. And that's why I say that parents of Autistic children should be considered for sainthood. They need a higher power to help them get through this challenge. We should try to do all we can to help, donate, volunteer or educate ourselves. It's the only pathway to a more compassionate and understanding world.
TACA - Autism
PubMed Health - Autism
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