Sunday, March 24, 2013

One in Fifty

A few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control released a report with new statistics regarding the prevalence of autism. According to their survey, one in fifty school-aged (6-17 years old) children has autism. [To read an article about this survey, click here.] This statistic represents an increase from the most recent figures of 1 in 88 children having autism. In 2009, the number of children with autism was given as 1 in 110 children, and in 2007, the commonly accepted statistic was that 1 in 150 children had autism. I’m not a math whiz like Alex, but I can easily calculate that in a little over five years, the likelihood of having a child with autism has tripled. Despite this rapid increase, only those affected by autism seem to care.

Instead, critics have diminished the importance of this statistic indicating increased numbers of school children with autism, stating that the research methods were flawed because they were based upon asking parents instead of professionals, such as doctors or educators. Others have indicated that the only reason for the increased rate of autism lies in better diagnosis; large numbers of children have always had autism but may not have been diagnosed. Another argument states that the criteria for autism have been broadened, allowing more children to carry a diagnosis of autism who would not have previously been considered as having autism.

As much as some people would like to contradict the research, the evidence is clear. More kids have autism than ever. Nearly everyone knows someone whose child has autism. Even more sobering should be the realization that these children grow up, and many of them will need support and services their entire lives because they cannot live independently. Despite all the years of autism research I have done, I was shocked to discover that 40% of children with autism cannot speak, according to the Centers for Disease Control. What is society going to do with thousands of adults who cannot function on their own because autism has hindered their social, motor, and language skills?

Another very real concern should be the behavioral aspects of autism that many prefer to keep hidden. A year ago, we had to hospitalize Alex in the behavioral medicine department for severe anxiety and aggression. After several weeks that included sedation, four-point restraints, and trying a variety of doses and combination of medications, we were finally able to bring him home, where he continues to need medications to keep him calm and safe. This week, I have corresponded with three moms of children with autism who are currently dealing with varying degrees of aggression in their children. I’m sure we are not the only four mothers who have struggled with this upsetting and potentially dangerous situation. Autism is not just having a child who cannot speak or look people in the eye; autism can bring behavior that is terrifying for a family. After the sheer hell we endured last year, I’m thankful that God saw us through that trying time and helped us find the resources we needed to return our sweet son and send away his angry, anxious, out-of-control version. After that experience, I have great empathy for those still going through terrible stages with their children who have aggression and autism. Not only do parents need compassion, but they also need support and resources that are sorely lacking in today’s society.

Next month, April, marks Autism Awareness Month. With the startling newest statistics, instead of awareness, those whose lives have been touched by autism should insist on focusing upon autism action. Most people have a sense of what autism is; what is needed is allocating research and resources that actually help children with autism and their families. Also, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, patience, tolerance, and understanding for those dealing with autism would be appreciated, as well. I’ve said before that I’ve felt that my calling as Alex’s mom is to speak up for him because he can’t speak up for himself. I ran across a quote this week by Martin Luther King, Jr. that reminded me of my need to advocate for him: “As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation--either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” The only good thing about the increase in the number of children with autism is that the number of parents who are using their situations as “a creative force” will increase, as well, to make a change. While that task may seem daunting, as one of my favorite writers, Willa Cather, once wrote, “With great love, there are always miracles.”

“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” I Peter 5:10

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