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  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Learning that your child has been diagnosed with Autism can be devastating for any parent.  When caring for a special needs child, you wonder what the future holds for them, and what you could have done to prevent this.  There does appear to be an increase in the number of cases identified as having Autism, which is now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).  It is viewed as a continuum, with mild and severe cases at each end of the spectrum.

    Autism was officially identified as a disorder in 1910 and there have been differing opinions regarding the idea that there is an increase in the number of cases versus an increase in the number of cases accurately identified. Accurate identification involves a comprehensive diagnostic interview, which examines looking at social communication impairments, and restricted interests or repetitive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the prevalence of autism to be 1 in 68 children, which is 220 percent greater than the 1 in 150 rate in 2000.  Also, boys are 4.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than girls. You can read more here.

    So, why is there an increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis?  One explanation is the changing diagnostic criteria, which may broaden the definition of whom can be labeled as having ASD.  Another possibility is a gene and environmental interaction. Environmental factors can include air pollution, pesticides, parental age, close spacing of pregnancies and extreme premature birth.  Yet, even with this environmental interaction being a potential trigger, children are born with Autism; they do not contract it after birth. Dr. Charlotte DiStephano, an Autism researcher and Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA, stated that Autism is a genetic disorder and currently 826 identified genes have been associated with ASD. 

    DiStephano understands that there is a deep emotional need for the families with children who have Autism to blame someone or something for this seeming increase in Autism in our population.  For much of the last century Autism was blamed on “refrigerator mothers,” who caused the children to retreat into a shell of safety and to block out threatening environments created by the parent’s cold attitudes.  

    DiStephano’s focus is on the advances that have been made in early identification and treatments.  This is usually between the ages of 2 and 3.  Caught early, many children with Autism are growing up to live lives in which the disability does not hinder their ability to live satisfying lives.   For more on these treatment advances, take Professional Psych Seminars’ class, taught by Dr. DiStephano, titled Autism Spectrum Disorder: Identification, Treatments and Current Research, which is now available online.