Autism cases increase

Google News reports: Pittsburg Morning Sun, KS – 6 hours ago
Bryce Commons of Pittsburg is one of about 500,000 kids in the United States with an autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disorder of the brain that causes problems with social and communication skills.
The number of children diagnosed with autism has risen dramatically in the last 20 years, according to Dr. Carolina Sanchez, a Frontenac developmental pediatrician.

In 1990, about one in 10,000 children was diagnosed with autism. Today, that number is about one in 166.

The reason for the increase has been the subject of debate, but one thing remains – autism is still a mystery.

“I had a normal son and we lost him,” said Mandy Commons, Bryce’s mother.

Mandy Commons said her son quit eating, quit drinking and lost hair when he was about 18 months old, just one week after receiving the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella – the MMR vaccine.

Some people believe the MMR vaccine is a trigger of autism, although others disagree.

“He lost nine pounds in 13 days,” she said. “He acted like he had the flu.”

She said she took Bryce to Hospital District No. 1 of Crawford County in Girard and they thought he had a bowl obstruction.

“Then we went to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City,” she said. “By then he quit talking. He looked right through you.”

Mandy Commons said many tests were done to find out what was wrong with Bryce. At one point, they thought he might be deaf.

“We had his hearing tested,” she said. “That is when the word ‘autism’ came into our vocabulary. That is when I started doing research and had him diagnosed.”

Sanchez said scientists still don’t know what causes autism, but she believes greater awareness of the disorder among health care providers and educators has contributed to the greater number of diagnoses.

She said studies of the brain have done little to help find a cause.

“Some studies show that the brains of children with autism are larger than normal children, but the cerebellum is smaller,” she said. “There are other areas of the brain that control emotion Š that are smaller in children with autism. But there is no coherent pattern.”

With no pattern for understanding what causes the disease, not much can be done to treat it, which Sanchez said is “very frustrating.”

“We have advanced so much in medicine, but autism, we don’t have a specific treatment for that,” she said.

Sanchez said some of the symptoms can be treated with medications like anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and even drugs for attention-deficit disorders.

“The most important intervention is the early and intensive education that addresses the behavior and communication,” she said. “It is in the repetition in teaching social skills and all forms of appropriate communication.”

Sanchez said most autism programs recommend 20 to 40 hours per week of intensive intervention, which is something she said most children don’t get from schools.

“It is very frustrating. Parents have to fight to get those kind of services,” she said. “Sometimes they might get 30 minutes of treatment every day or three times per week, or something like that.”

But there is hope.

Temple Grandin is autistic. She has a Ph.D., teaches animal science at Colorado State University, and has written books.

“The way she overcame autism was because she had good teachers and good parents,” Sanchez said. “It is very interesting to read about her.”

Sanchez said that with early intervention, starting at about 18 months of age, at least 50 percent of children with autism will be able to go to a mainstream school.

“This is what most of the studies say about outcome, but we have to start early,” she said. “That is why it is important for health care providers to listen to parents’ concerns. This is one of the most important things.”

Staff Writer Joe Noga can be reached at [email protected] or 231-2600, Ext. 132.

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