FEAT DAILY NEWSLETTER Sacramento, California
"Healing Autism: No Finer a Cause on the Planet"
Also: Alarming Increase In Autism Spurs Need For Awareness: Maryland
Autism's Huge Increase Pushes Hunt For Causes (April 29, 2001)
California is on a record pace this year for new cases of the disorder that
closes children off from world
[By Sandy Kleffman, Contra Costa Times.]
California shattered its record for new autism cases as 700 additional
children and young adults registered at regional centers during the first
three months of 2001.
That far exceeds the previous quarterly record of 593 new autism cases
during the same period in 1999.
It adds urgency to the efforts of researchers attempting to figure out
why it is happening. It also causes chagrin among many parents, and raises
questions about the state's ability to continue financing services for
expanding numbers of children.
"The increase is staggering -- 700 cases in 88 days," said Robert
Byrd, section chief of general pediatrics at UC Davis who is spearheading a
state-funded study of the issue.
"It underscores the importance of understanding the basis for these
numbers," Byrd said.
With other states reporting similar increases, a congressional
committee will hold hearings today and tomorrow on the issue.
The House Government Reform Committee will bring together many of the
nation's leading researchers to continue pushing for answers.
Autism is a severe developmental disorder that undermines a child's
ability to connect with the world. Autistic children often have difficulty
making eye contact and speaking clearly. Many engage in ritualistic behavior
such as hand-flapping and following routines.
There is no known cause for autism. Most researchers believe there is
a genetic component, but some are also exploring whether there may be an
environmental factor -- such as a toxin, a food allergy or a bad reaction to
a vaccine -- that is triggering autism in genetically vulnerable children.
Earlier this week, the Institute of Medicine released a report
concluding there is no evidence that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine
increases a healthy child's chance of developing autism. It noted that
studies are too imprecise to completely rule out the possibility that
vaccines could trigger autism in rare instances, but said the risks involved
in not immunizing are far greater.
In California, state officials urge people to exercise caution in
reaching conclusions from the latest statistics, which bring the total
number of full-blown autism cases to 14,777.
The numbers are drawn from people who are registered to receive
services at the state Department of Developmental Services' regional
Children between the ages of 3 and 13 make up the bulk of the new
cases, although there are also some young adults.
Some of these children may have received services from regional
centers for many years, but just recently been diagnosed as autistic, noted
Julie Jackson, a program services branch manager for the department.
Rick Rollens, the father of an autistic boy, said he was "horrified" to see
the latest numbers.
"However these kids got there, the fact is they're in the system now,"
Rollens said. "Clearly, the number of new cases is accelerating at an
Rollens is one of the founders of the Medical Investigation of
Neurodevelopmental Disorders at UC Davis, which has received more than $34
million in state funding to explore the issue.
The MIND Institute is financing Byrd's study, which he expects to complete
within a year.
Researchers will do independent assessments of 500 autistic children
and 500 mentally retarded children throughout the state.
They will analyze whether these children were properly diagnosed and
whether the autistic children share common factors, including other medical
conditions such as gastrointestinal problems,
David Amaral, Research Director of the M.I.N.D. Institute was in
Washington DC last week to present their research programs in the push for
similar racial backgrounds, places where their families lived and parents'
Jackson noted that state officials recently launched an autism
initiative to ensure doctors are using uniform guidelines to diagnose the
disorder. They also hope to set up a panel of experts to advise them on
evaluation and treatment methods.
"Regardless of the cause, there are 700 persons who obviously have
serious problems," said Ron Huff, a psychologist for the state Department of
Developmental Services. "That is stressful on families."
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Alarming Increase In Autism Spurs Need For Awareness: Maryland
[By Rebecca Faye Smith Galli.]
It's the phone call you don't want to get, from the person you don't
like to hear from.
Perched in front of my living room window for 80 minutes, I anxiously
waited for Madison's bus to arrive. The phone interrupted my worries. The
assistant principal, whom I've known for years, identified herself by first
and last name as well as her position. I knew there was trouble.
"Is Madison home yet?"
"No," I stammered. "Is everything all right?"
"There's been an accident," she continued. "All the children are fine,
but there is a significant delay. She should be home soon," she assured me.
A car had skidded into the back of the stopped bus. Baltimore County
transportation officials inspected the site. The children appeared OK, but I
was encouraged to "check Madison out" and report any problems.
That's easier said than done with my 9-year-old daughter, Madison. She
is part of Baltimore County's special-needs population -- specifically, the
recently reported 640 percent increase since 1993 in the number of people
suffering from the neurological disorder that impairs communication, autism.
As a seasoned student in the Autism Outreach Program, Madison rides a
bus with other special-needs children, all with varying degrees of
communication. I tried to envision the accident and the impact of the
collision. With our children's limited use of language, we parents of
children with autism become astute observers of behavior. Recently,
Madison's persistent hair twirling at her left temple signaled an ear
infection. Cryptic requests for "Pressure, please," on her face often
indicate a headache or sinus problems.
After a jolt from behind, how would I know if she is OK?
Children with autism are often sticklers for structure. Routines, punctuated
with picture systems, as well as verbal and nonverbal cues, organize their
world into manageable chunks of activities. Changes in daily schedules can
lead to upsets, even violent behavior.
The bus was now nearly two hours late. I could only hope this major
disruption of routine would not set off a pandemonium too great for the
driver and assistant to handle.
I waited. I prayed.
After a few minutes, that seemed like an eternity, I spied the top of
the bus rounding the corner of our neighborhood.
"The bus is here!" I shouted. My 13-year-old daughter threw on her
coat and ran out to greet her sister. Madison bounded down the steps
singing, "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" at the top of her lungs. The driver
slumped over the steering wheel, crossing his hands to cushion his weary
head. I could not begin to imagine the day he'd had.
Madison scurried into the house, hanging up her coat and backpack
before plunking down at the counter for her after-school snack.
"I want milk, please," she politely stated, using one of her scripted
functional requests. Children with autism need to be taught the most basic
language. She learned this sentence after hours of repeated drills, both at
home and at school.
Unfortunately, her vocabulary does not include the words, "I hurt."
That long afternoon finally melted into the evening, as did my fears
of Madison's invisible injuries. I only wish my fears for her future could
be so easily assuaged. The first step is to care and prepare for this
lifelong disability by finding a forum to speak for the hurts of those who
That's why I joined former Oriole B.J. Surhoff and other parents of
children with autism as we unmasked our hurt and found our voice for these
children at a recent kick-off meeting for the congressional Autism Caucus in
Washington. Addressing the alarming increase in incidence, this group will
provide a forum for autism issues culminating with a nationwide rally
planned for today, Autism Awareness Day.
Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, a free-lance writer in Phoenix, Md., is an
officer of Baltimore-based Pathfinders for Autism. Copyright © 2001, The
Lenny Schafer, Editor Catherine Johnson PhD Ron Sleith Kay Stammers
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