More than 110 people filled Ketchum Auditorium in Lafferre Hall on the University of Missouri campus last Thursday to hear Peter Bell, Executive Vice President for Autism Speaks present “Current Trends in Autism.”
The audience included parents, educators, university students and interested citizens who came to hear Bell speak about a hope filled future for families and children living with the disorder.
Bell began his talk by sharing a brief history of autism. “In the 1940’s ,’50’s and ‘60’s the symptoms of autism were blamed on bad parenting.” Bell said. He continued on saying that in the 1970’s and 80’s people began to acknowledge that autism was a real disorder but thought there was nothing that could be done about it. “By the mid-1990’s views began to change and people began to see real hope for a cure.” He concluded.
Today, that hope is being realized through earlier diagnosis of the disorder and earlier intervention through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapies. According to Bell and the organization for which he works, Autism Speaks, there is a 10-20% “recovery” rate for children who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This means that some of the children who have been placed on the autism spectrum will eventually be removed if they receive appropriate behavior therapy and medical intervention.Bell was quick to note that “recovery” can mean different things to different people and that children who no longer test on the autism spectrum often have additional health issues that require continued treatment.
While the prospects for autism diagnosis, intervention and treatment are better than they have ever been, Bell made it clear that much more needs to be done to find the causes of ASD and to assist those living with the disorder. A main focus of his talk was about children with ASD who are transitioning into adulthood.
“People with ASD must have a voice.” Bell said. “This means they must be able to self-advocate and have supported, independent housing and job opportunities.”
As Bell's 17-year-old son Tyler begins the transition into adulthood,he is acutely aware of the need to prepare Tyler for a life of independence. During his talk Bell expressed optimism for his son’s future by telling about a recent ski trip.
“Tyler and I went skiing in Connecticut a few weeks ago.” Bell said. “On Saturday Tyler took two hours of adaptive instruction for people with developmental disabilities. He had never skied before in his life. By Sunday he was skiing on his own. This event took place the weekend before Tyler’s seventeenth birthday.”
Said Bell of the experience, “I had always dreaded Tyler’s birthdays because they were a reminder of what we hadn’t achieved yet.” But, referencing Tyler’s achievement on the ski slopes he concluded, “I will treasure his seventeenth birthday because he accomplished something he set out to do.”
Tyler’s success on the ski slopes serves as evidence that through proper diagnosis, and treatment anything is possible for those living with autism.