The numbers are eye-opening. One in 150 kids are now being diagnosed with Autism, with the disorder affecting four times more boys than girls. This so-called explosion of new cases is not only puzzling, it has many very concerned.
The 1988 movie Rainman was, for many of us, our first look inside the life of a person with Autism. It brought a lot of attention to a certain type of the disorder, but unfortunately, also created some misconceptions. Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges.
t's a Spring afternoon at the Reuteman house in
Looking back now, Sam's parents believe that was one of the first signs something was wrong. Sam's dad, Paul, says, "They originally labeled or diagnosed it as just colic and said he'll grow out of it and not to worry about it."
Sam did eventually grow out of it, but he still struggled. He had a tough time expressing what he wanted and when his speech started developing, it became very repetitive. Callie says, "You hear a lot about regression in kids. Sam always was delayed, he didn't actually roll until he was 8 months old. The doctor kept saying he's a big baby, then he didn't crawl until he was 11 1/2 months."
The thought of Autism did cross the Reuteman's mind in those early years, but it was never a real consideration. Paul says, "There were times, when I had thought about it, but yet, we were continually reinforced by other people, don't worry about it, right now, he's just delayed, that's common."
It wasn't until Sam was about 4 years old that doctors finally diagnosed him with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Most kids are diagnosed by age 3. Paul says, "Some of the medical professionals were a little bit hesitant to label him, just because they were afraid of that permanent label on his record." The diagnosis, as strange as it sounds, was actually a relief. The Reuteman's finally knew what was wrong with Sam and now they could do something about it. Paul says, "It's a very, very difficult pill to swallow the first time you hear your son or daughter may be Autistic, but it's so important to get the diagnosis, so you can move on and carry on with the appropriate therapies."
Diane Hietpas, Director of Special Education at Chileda, says, "You may see some sensory issues, where kids are processing sensory information a little bit differently, so they may be very sensitive to sounds and they may want to cover their ears. Socially, they prefer to play alone and they do very, very repetitive things. Play with Lego's, but build the same tower every time."
Sam still has many of the traits and behaviors associated with Autism, but with therapy, he's made incredible progress over the years. He's now a second-grader at Cathedral school in
Sam is more like an 8-year-old boy, now, than the Reuteman's every thought he could be, and they hope more people will take time to understand Sam's world. "We don't necessarily know where he's going to be and I don't think society knows where he's going to be, either, and I think that's going to be a huge issue in the next 10-15 years," says Paul.
Callie says, "Life goes on, we've learned so much from Sam and our kids have learned so much from Sam, and I absolutely love every ounce of him and what he does for us, and I feel we've been dealt this hand, and you know what, you go with it."
Early detection and intervention is key with Autism. It's much easier for the brain to adapt to differences in the early stages of development. Sam works with a therapist a couple of times a week, for a few hours at a time, which is crucial for him to continue to control some of those behaviors associated with his Autism. But, one of the big issues is also cost. These therapies are very, very expensive and insurance companies typically don't cover them.