Autism news in 2012 once again centered on the dramatic increase in autism rates. In March, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that one in 88 children has autism, up 78 percent from 2002.
Scientists increasingly learned through research that autism is largely caused by environmental and man-made factors, a departure from the view held years ago that autism’s causes were nearly all genetic.
Meanwhile, educational and therapeutic interventions continued to evolve, with a strong emphasis on play skills as a way to improve social and life skills for children on the spectrum.
Links and excerpts from 10 autism articles from 2012 are below.
Autism advocates and government officials testified in front of a congressional committee Thursday about the federal response to the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses in recent years.
One in every 88 babies born in the U.S. will develop autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a 23 percent increase since 2009 and a 78 percent increase since 2007. In the 1960s, autism was believed to affect one in 10,000 children in the U.S.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned representatives of the National Institutes of Health and CDC about research priorities and subsequent results. A second panel of autism advocates testified about concerns ranging from research to services for people with autism. See the video here.
Numerous congressmen on the committee harshly criticized the NIH and CDC for a lack of effective research results, while agency officials at times struggled to come up with answers. The safety of vaccines was discussed, an issue that NIH and CDC insists is not linked to the rise in autism. However, many parents still steadfastly believe vaccines are one of the causes of the disorder. Members of the House committee recounted instances in which parents told them of children developmentally regressing immediately after being subjected to vaccines.
Babies in the womb and during their first year are two to three times more likely to develop autism if exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution and poor air quality, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC published the study in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study compared 279 children with autism and 245 control children with typical development in California.
Researchers used the mother’s address to estimate exposure to the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution as well as air quality during pregnancy and the first year of life.
As I prepare for my kidney transplant tomorrow, I look back on some of the memories I have stored up from my nearly 14 years of volunteering and working with kids and adults with autism and other disabilities. We worked on academics, sports, social skills, life skills, and most of all, had fun.
I wouldn’t trade the recollections for anything. Those memories are etched in my mind for all time.
I started out in 1999 volunteering at a program called Kids Enjoy Exercise Now in Bethesda, Maryland. KEEN now has affiliates all over the country.
It is extremely beneficial for parents of girls on the spectrum to coordinate play dates with other girls, as classrooms can be mostly boys. Autism is almost five times more prevalent among boys than girls.
Below is a description of a 90-minute play date that occurred in the past year with one facilitator and six preteen and teenage girls with autism and other disabilities. The girls’ social development, as one would expect, was several years behind their chronological ages.
For many people on the autism spectrum, swimming offers not only an opportunity to have fun but a recreational activity that can calm often volatile emotions. In the water, children with autism may feel more balanced and centered.
A number of organizations are taking swimming a step further for children with autism and other special needs. In recent years, surfing has grown as a way for children with autism and other developmental delays to have fun in a non-competitive, individual sport that builds on their strengths.
Keeping children and adults with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse is a critical topic that people don’t like to talk about, but warrants more attention than it often receives. Several studies have indicated that children with disabilities face a higher risk of sexual abuse than those without disabilities. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, women with disabilities are sexually abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population.
Children with autism and other disabilities can be especially vulnerable because of communication problems or a lack of fear. Incidents may go unreported because children with disabilities may not be able to convey what happened, may not fully understand what is inappropriate, or may not be seen as credible because of communication problems.
What can parents and educators do? Teaching children some basics about safety is a must. Kids have to learn that they should not talk to strangers. This concept may be a hard one for them to understand at first. All kids should be talked to about this, but for those with disabilities, extra care should be taken to simplify the information and convey it in a way they can best understand. Many books and videos are available to help kids understand about strangers and other concepts about safety.
One of the most frustrating and heartbreaking problems for children with autism and their families is when kids have poor verbal communication skills, or even an outright inability to speak. Despite trying every therapy under the sun, some children may never communicate verbally. However, for those who do learn to communicate out loud, identifying the words that go with particular items can give them a jump-start to understanding the concept of communication.
And even if they do not learn to speak, putting words with pictures can become a step toward reading, a crucial life skill and an early step in the communication process. Even for non-verbal children, there is always hope to communicate, however. Many types of augmentative and alternative communication systems are available to help kids participate in the fundamental right that is communication.
Music therapy can be an integral part of play dates for children with autism and other special needs. Reading and singing lyrics, identifying the rhythm and beat of a song, and thinking abstractly through imagery are just some of the skills that can be learned through listening to music.
Play date facilitators and other caretakers can print lyrics in large font, have kids practice tapping their feet or nodding their heads to a beat, and listen keenly for words and instruments. A consistent beat, or a metronome can also help kids focus.
But what happens when children inevitably outgrow classics such as “Old MacDonald” and “Itsy Bitsy Spider?"
Several songs by the Beatles may help children with autism and other disabilities appreciate music at a level that matches their abilities. These songs are simple, with vivid imagery, and, at least the ones below have no inappropriate lyrics.
Play dates that include a variety of activities can help children with autism and other special needs acquire much needed social skills. Kids with special needs need play dates to practice these skills as much as possible.
Play date facilitators can use a multi-disciplinary approach to ensure that children with special needs best use their strengths, improve their weaknesses, and learn in a way that can generalize skills.
Children will be motivated to make the most progress in activities they care most about. Those interests can be windows into what makes them tick. Floortime founder Stanley Greenspan was a pioneer in showing that children with developmental disabilities often learn best through an integrated approach based on emotions, interests, and relationships. Add in humor, healthy competition, and lots of fun, and play dates will more than likely be successful.
Harvard researcher Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory states that eight distinct types of intelligences can be developed to help students reach their potential. This is in contrast to traditional approaches that focus solely on logical-mathematical and linguistic/verbal intelligences, which may underestimate the intelligence of students with special needs.
When therapists and educators for children with special needs are shuffled in and out of after school academic programs, the lack of continuity can prevent students from learning effectively. In some cases, by the time a child with special needs is 10, he has been to multiple schools, had several different home programs, and experienced significant turnover within each program.
The antidote for this turmoil is to create an atmosphere of normalcy by attracting and retaining qualified caretakers. It is not good for children to get attached to therapists and then have them abruptly taken away from them, because it teaches children that people are dispensable and interchangeable. It’s also detrimental for the kids psychologically to have people taken away from them because they may develop trust, attachment, or abandonment issues. Children with autism and other disabilities should be treated with respect and their feelings should not be ignored, regardless of their abilities.
Think of a quarterback who has to learn a new system each year. The marginal gains from the implementation of a new scheme are usually outweighed by the complex adjustments that must be made that can hold back progress.
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