Monday, April 19, 2010


Autism is common and often misunderstood

The likelihood that a child has autism is much higher than many people realize.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 1 in every 110 American children has been diagnosed with autism, including 1 in 70 boys. It is more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.

According to, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a variety of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by difficulties in communication, social impairments, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Autism spectrum disorders can range from mild forms to severe forms. However, although autism spectrum disorders vary significantly in presentation and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic class and affects every age group.

As a registered nurse with two nephews diagnosed with ASD, I can assure you that ASD can affect any family. It is difficult to come to terms that your beloved child may have a problem but I can reassure you that being properly informed and obtaining early intervention is crucial.

This is why The William W. Backus Hospital Education Department has organized a community education program, “Could My Child have Autism?” as part of its ongoing Family Matters series. The free program will be held from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm May 13 in the Backus Hospital entry-level conference rooms. To register, call (860) 889-8331 Ext 2495. Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician Dr. Dumont-Mathieu will discuss recognizing the signs, getting a diagnosis and accessing resources, and a Backus Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services Department will be on hand to talk about the pediatric services it offers, including speech therapy.

A child’s parents or primary caregivers usually are the first to notice signs of ASD. One of the most common signs of autism is impaired social interaction. This can be noticed as early as infancy.

Children with ASD also tend to start speaking later than other children, may not respond to their name and often avoid eye contact. They may refer to themselves by their name instead of “I” or “me.” They have difficulty interpreting what other people are feeling or thinking because they do not understand social cues, such as tone of voice, or facial expressions. These children also do not know how to interact and play with other children. Many children with ASD engage in repetitive movements such as rocking or twirling, or in self-abuse behaviors such as biting or head banging.

Scientists are not certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role. There is no cure for autism but early therapies and intervention can make extraordinary differences in a child's development. How a child is functioning now may be very different from how he or she will function later on in life.

Lisa Cook is a registered nurse with the Backus Hospital Education Department. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at


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