Did you know that April is National Autism Awareness month? If
you’re the parent or relative of a child “on the spectrum,” the answer is
probably a resounding yes. Ditto for educators, doctors, therapists and
researchers who are directly involved with autism. However, if you’re among the (still) majority of “normal” people with neurotypical children, then
chances are good you aren’t “aware” that April is a special month for
autism. Even if you read my post on
“Autism Unawareness” last April, I’m not sure you’d remember.
truth is that the only way most people really
focus on autism—or any other challenge—is when it becomes THEIR own problem.
I’m just as guilty of myriad forms of medical ignorance as the next person. If
my son Max hadn’t been born with a congenital heart problem, I wouldn’t know
anything about atrial septal defects (ASDs) or mitral valve regurgitation, nor
would I have had any interest in understanding and researching those issues.
Since there are far fewer babies born with heart problems (9 in 2000), compared
with the epidemic in autism (now 1 in 68), there is no month devoted to
awareness of atrial septal defects. More importantly, ASDs—unlike autistic
spectrum disorders (also, coincidentally, called ASDs!?)—are easily diagnosed
and corrected with surgery. By contrast, autistic spectrum disorders are
difficult to diagnose, and currently there is still no cure.
14 year old autistic boy, Avonte Oquendo, went missing from his school in
Queens, the media went into a frenzy. Night and day, the news showed
a tape of Avonte running down a hallway, out of school and into the bitter cold
without a coat. His pictures were
plastered everywhere, and his tearful mother pleaded for the return of her son
who couldn’t speak. EVERYONE empathized
with the loss of a vulnerable child, and New York’s finest—along with the
public—scoured every inch of the city until, sadly, Avonte’s remains were
found. Then there was a sense of outrage. How could any
school—let alone one responsible for autistic kids—allow a student to run
out of a classroom unsupervised? Where
was the security guard? Maybe outrage is
what we need to find the cause and cure for autism. Not just in April, but all year long.
Many autistic children wander, and
Avonte’s parents had warned the school that he was a flight risk. Why wasn’t there an alarm system? More
importantly, why don’t these kids wear some sort of tracking device? If we have the technology to locate lost
iphones and reunite missing pets with their owners, then why can’t Silicon
Valley develop a wrist band to protect society’s most vulnerable children? At
the very least, Avonte’s school needs a complete security overhaul.
of security, you’d think that after 9/11 it wouldn’t be possible for a few thrill seekers to reach the
top of 1 World Trade Center and parachute down to the street in the middle of
night! Apparently, the interlopers simply
stepped through a hole in the fence nobody had bothered to repair— until more recently,
when a 16 year old managed to get into the building and up to the roof the very
same way. It’s frightening but true.
Even more frightening (in my
opinion) is the global warming issue.
We’re not talking about 1 in 68 children or a few terrible security
lapses. We’re talking about earthquakes
and mudslides in California, tsunamis in Indonesia and Chile, not to mention
super storm Sandy in New York City not so long ago. A recent article in The
New York Times reported that the worldwide food supply has been severely impacted by climate change,
and humanity is not reacting nearly fast
enough to control greenhouse gases, and stop destroying our planet.
What do security lapses and global
warming have to do with Autism Awareness month?
Nothing and everything. In order to cure autism, protect our kids, and save
the planet, more people—more entire countries—must become aware and ACTIVE in looking
Although there has been a lot of
autism research, there’s still no consensus on the underlying causes. Some studies say the risk of autism increases
with older fathers. Others say environmental pollutants play a role. The latest report in Sunday’s New York Times (3/30) suggests that
maternal stress during pregnancy also increases the risk of autism, as do elective caesarean
sections. Not surprisingly, the author
suggests reducing the risk by not scheduling a c-section. Duh.
As for genetic studies, it has been
demonstrated that 60 - 90% of identical twins will both be autistic, whereas
fraternal twins (who share 50% of the same DNA) have about half the risk. With such a broad range of statistical results, it's clear that genetics are only one piece of the puzzle. Also noted is the fact that prematurity
occurs more often in multiple births, and thus greatly increases the odds of
developmental disabilities, including autism, in all twins. And if you’re one of those diagnosticians who
believes that ADHD can be considered the mildest version of autism, then my
twins, (Max with ADHD and Sarah with an ASD) are your textbook case—unless of
course, you happen to meet them. Despite
the fact that Max and Sarah emerged from the same womb sharing 50% of the same
DNA, they are so different from each other in personality and cognitive ability
that one twin could have been born on Saturn and the other on Mars.
Let’s just say I am not impressed
with the latest research results. When Max
and Sarah were born in 1990, the risk for having an autistic child was 1 in 150.
Last year, the number of babies born with autism was 1 in 80. This year it’s 1 in 68. Or maybe it's 1 in 50, depending on where you live or what graph you consult. What will it be next year?
T.S. Eliot was right: April is the cruelest
Labels: ADHD, atrial septal defects, autism, autism research, Avonte Oquendo, congenital heart defects, genetic research. T.S. Eliot, global warming, security lapses, Silicon Valley, technology issues, tracking devices