Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX


April 2, 2013

EDITORIAL: Autism epidemic continues to grow

JACKSONVILLE — Today is World Autism Day, a day the United Nations set aside in 2008 “to highlight the need to help improve the lives of children and adults who suffer from the disorder so they can lead full and meaningful lives.”

Autism, a neurological disorder that primarily affects communication and social development (although that’s a gross oversimplification), now affects 1 in 50 children born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

1 in 50.

That’s a lot.

Eleven years ago, that number was 1 in 150.

In 2002, my older son was born and in 2004, he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

Since then, the incidence of children born with this disorder has grown exponentially.

And no one can figure out why.

At first, experts attributed the burgeoning autism rate to more awareness of the disorder and better diagnostic criteria.

People have blamed vaccines, genetics and environmental factors, yet no one has been able to pin down one specific cause or combination of causes that contribute to a person being autistic.

This frightens me.

Back when my son was first diagnosed, my biggest fear was what the future would hold for him.

I wondered if he’d ever talk, make friends, live on his own (one helpful neurologist suggested we look into a group home placement), or function as a “typical” child.

Now my fears are a bit more global. One in 50 children with a neurological disorder means that one in 50 adults, 25 years from now, will have a neurological disorder (and the  number continues to grow.) I wonder what this means for our society.

My son is in the fifth grade. He’s on the A/B honor roll this six weeks. He talks (too much sometimes). For fun, he designs rollercoasters on his computer, carefully vetting the angles of descent and G-forces as he creates these fantastic pieces of machinery. He is almost ready to earn his orange belt in karate. He’s very aware of what things are now “babyish” and how mom can be totally “embarrassing” sometimes.

I know now he will succeed in school. He will live on his own. He will probably cultivate a few close friendships, rather than being a social butterfly. I know he will be function well within what society expects of him.

But what about all the others?

Every person with autism is different.

You cannot look at someone and automatically know, ‘that person is autistic.’

Some are high-functioning; some will require lifelong assistance.

I want to know: What causes this? What are we pumping into our systems or our environment that causes those neurons not to fire quite properly?

We have to know, so we can stop it.

People talk about ‘curing’ autism. There is no ‘cure.’ It’s like bad eyesight: you can wear corrective lenses and function “normally,” but there is no cure. Once you have autism, you will always have autism.

Most parents of children with autism wouldn’t change their child for the world.

But it can’t keep happening.

What will it take to prevent one in 50, or one in 25, people in this country from a neurological disorder? What will it take?

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