April is Autism Awareness Month: Where Do We Stand and What's Being Done to Find a Cure?
by Jennifer BeeryAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 88 children in our country are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism. The prevalence of ASD and autism has increased 10-fold over the past 40 years, mainly due to improved diagnosis and greater awareness. The CDC reports that over 2 million individuals in the U.S. and 10's of millions of individuals worldwide have been diagnosed with ASD. Lastly, it has been found that ASD affect boys 4-5 times more than girls. It is estimated that 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with ASD in the U.S.In order to find a cure, parents, family members, doctors, and researchers need to first understand what autism is and what causes it. Autism is a complex developmental and neurological condition that effects a young child's brain function, specifically in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Classic signs of autism include: delayed talking, lack of interest in playing with other children, lack of interest in being held, and poor eye contact. The cause of autism is multifactorial and there is no one type of autism which makes pinpointing a direct cause so difficult. A number of rare gene mutations have been found that are significant enough to cause autism themselves, however in most cases, it is a combination of risk genes and environmental factors that influence early brain development as the more likely cause. A combination of these risk factors combined with other genetic risk factors, rather than individually, have been connected to autism: advanced age of parents at time of conception, whether mom experienced any illness while pregnant, parent's exposure to pesticides, and if there were any difficulties during birth such as the baby's lack of oxygen to the brain.Doctors are currently making some recommendations to women considering getting pregnant and for women who currently are pregnant to help reduce the risk of their child developing autism. Some of the recommendations include: taking prenatal vitamins and eating foods rich in folic acid. These foods include dried beans, egg yolks, almonds, and many fruits and vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bananas, and oranges. Doctors and currently exploring the role of the immune system with autism and more increased studies are underway.Increased awareness of this disorder needs to be spread in our community and funding of continuous research into a cure must continue. Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org) is a wonderful resource for learning more about ASD and autism, spread awareness, and get involved. Orlando hosts the Annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks and this year it will be held November 9, 2013 at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs. If you have a child or know someone who needs support, a list of local support groups and services can also be found on the MyAutism Team page. They even have great Apps you can download for information related to recreation, communication, language, and creative arts.