Friday, November 14, 2008

A Precious Child's Different Journey

"You still have a great kid, but you're on a different journey. You'll dream a different dream for your child, not a bad one, just different." Those are the words a mother longs to hear from her physician once she discovers her child has autism. These children have "different brains and different abilities" and they have the capacity to teach each of us a new skill, as they make this world a better place.

This is a mother's journey as she realizes something is different in her child. When the child does not respond to her name, the family seeks medical help. First, the 18 month old has a hearing test with normal results. With concern, the parents visit the doctor at three years of age and hear the soothing advice, "give the child more time." Deep down both mother and father feel something is not right, but cling to hope that their sweet child will be okay. By the age of five, this child attends preschool. During spring conference, the teachers share somber concerns. "Your child," the teacher explains gently, "has abnormal speech prosody - tone of voice. She plays alone with little interest in other children and talks mostly in memorized movie scripts, not flowing conversation. An evaluation with Child Find can help," suggests the caring teacher. Acknowledging a problem in your child is painful for any parent. However, when someone clearly communicates that a problem exists, the parents eagerly seek help. These grateful parents recall, "Knowledgeable, preschool staff made a tremendous difference in getting our child timely help."

In their search for answers, the parents read, study, and ask questions of many health and educational experts, as well as other parents. One evening, the father stumbles upon answers that bring hollow relief and overwhelming anxiety. As he studies information about Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder first described in 1944, this father faces the harsh reality that his child shows 14 of the 20 signs.

With new information, both parents realize the only way to truly help their precious child is to grant permission for health and educational professionals to say the "A" word, AUTISM. This family now treads on a mysterious path. However, by facing autism, the family partners with health and educational experts to work collaboratively in the child's best interest. Finally, the mother, father, and especially the lovely child are no longer alone on their journey.

Looking back, the parents' greatest regret is they did not desperately seek help sooner for their child simply because they did not understand. Therefore, crucial early intervention time was lost. "It is so important for everyone caring for children to know the signs of autism and help families get the earliest diagnosis and treatment possible. All kids with Autism can make progress and the earlier they get help the better their chances are," advise these parents who navigate autism's path.

In the US today, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affect 1 in every 150 children who are eight years old and are increasing at alarming rates. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Between 1994 and 2006, the number of 6 to 17-year-old children classified as having an ASD in public special education programs increased from 22,664 to 211,610." These disorders are more common in children than diabetes, spinal bifida and even Down's syndrome.

Children with autism spectrum disorders have a problem in the brain that leads to
developmental challenges. These children may interact, communicate, behave and learn differently than others and have symptoms that vary from mild to severe. ASD children possess thinking and learning abilities that vary from gifted to severely challenged. The most familiar type of ASD is autistic disorder but others include "pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified" and Asperger Syndrome.

Children with autism spectrum disorders do not follow regular patterns of child development. In many cases, parents accurately notice that something is different, but find it difficult to explain and understand what is happening to the child. Even childcare providers and preschool teachers often identify unusual behaviors, but sometimes are uncertain what to do with these observations.

Today health experts agree that early recognition and intervention with behavioral therapies for children with ASD leads to amazing results. ASD can be recognized as early as 18 months and some developmental delays are seen in infancy. Seeking help from health care professionals and organizations like Child Find make a huge impact on the child's progress and success.

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