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Autism strikes one out of every 110 children

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Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 12:00 pm

By Sonya Campbell

Harker Heights Herald

April is a month when many important issues are brought to the forefront to highlight awareness about them - child abuse prevention, sexual assault awareness and stress among them.

Another key issue is autism, which affects an estimated one out of every 110 children in the U.S.

An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism, according to Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy center.

The definitive cause or causes is unclear.

Autism affects the way a child perceives the world and makes communication and social interaction difficult. The child may also have repetitive behaviors or intense interests.

Symptoms and their severity vary for each of the affected areas -communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviors. A child may not have the same symptoms and may seem very different from another child with the same diagnosis.

Someone mildly affected might seem quirky and lead a typical life while a severely affected person might be unable to speak or care for himself.

But early intervention can make a significant difference in a child's development. It's something I've seen firsthand while raising a child with autism.

K-Lo (a nickname bestowed by a doting aunt) was diagnosed with autism when she was 3.

Our first indication something was amiss came when she was about 1½ years old.

She was a "toe-walker" from her first step, never made eye contact, did not talk and appeared to be deaf. Calling her name got no reaction. However, a hearing test revealed no problems.

By age 2, K-Lo was receiving speech and occupational therapy through Early Childhood Intervention, which is available up until the child turns 3.

At that point, she was enrolled in Pre-school Programs for Children with Disabilities and now, at nearly 5 years old, continues to receive therapy through public school.

Without ECI and the PPCD program (all free services), getting K-Lo help would have been questionable.

Although she has health insurance, it doesn't cover expenses related to autism. Most insurance doesn't.

Instead, we pay $160 for each 30-minute session of speech therapy. She goes twice a week.

I have to admit it is disheartening to know we can't pay for occupational or behavioral therapy due to the cost. Mainly because I know early intervention - I've been told by professionals "early" means up to the age of 6 - can mean the difference between dependence and independence for people with autism.

I believe it.

K-Lo began talking at age 3, and was nearly 3½ before she ever called me by any name. Even today, nearly two years later, she often has difficulty expressing herself.

Although her social skills and speech are better, people still seemed confused when she talks gibberish to them, or doesn't respond or even look up at them when they speak to her.

But overall, she is doing much better than many children in her position and we are hopeful for her future - sort of.

Our leading concern at this point is whether government-funded services will be available in the future for K-Lo and children like her. If not, the future may not look so bright for the one out of every 110 people with autism or for those who care for them.

For more information about autism, go to www.autismspeaks.org.

Sonya Campbell is editor of the Harker Heights Herald. Contact her at sonyas@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7557.

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