April is National Autism Awareness Month – A Few Things you Should Know

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Dr. Janet Seabrook
Dr. Janet Seabrook

By Dr. Janet Seabrook

I glanced at the calendar and could hardly believe that not only is it Spring, but the start of the  second quarter of 2021! April is Autism Awareness Month, so I decided to write a column to share important information about this developmental disability.

What is Autism?

According to the Autism Society (Autism-society.org), Autism is “a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects people differently and to varying degrees.”

A study completed in 2018 by the Center for Disease Control revealed that the prevalence of Autism rose to 1 in 59 from a prior 2004 rate of 1 in 125. Thanks to more research and communication technology, the spotlight on Autism has increased, which means more resources and information for individuals and families impacted by this condition.

What are the signs?

The sooner Autism is detected, the greater the opportunities to improve one’s quality of life while empowering family members and caregivers with knowledge and resources to provide effective assistance. Here are a few of the early signs:

  • Speaks later than typical or not at all (nonverbal)
  • Repetition in language or movement, such as repeating the same word or sounds, hand flapping, or any repeated movement
  • Atypical nonverbal communication, including avoiding eye contact, giving few facial expressions, or having a monotone
  • Prefers solitary or parallel play rather than engaging in associative or cooperative play with other children
  • Extremely distressed by changes, including new foods or changes in schedule
  • Preference for predictable, structured play over spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Strong, persistent interest on specific topic, part of a toy, or item

Next steps

Note that the above signs may not be indicators of Autism but rather something else. This is why it is important to consult with your physician as soon as any of the signs are noticed. Additionally, continue to monitor your child’s behavior at home, daycare and when around others. Take notes and share your findings with your healthcare professional even if you don’t think your observances are significant.

If your child is ultimately diagnosed with Autism, there are many resources available for parents, family members and caregivers. Joining a local support group is always a great idea. These types of organizations provide moral support as well as activities and up-to-date information about progress in the area of Autism research.

Last year, I met a young lady by the name of Jaunesia Davis. Her middle son was diagnosed with Autism at age 4, and she was advised that her son would not walk or talk. Davis did not accept this diagnosis and sought resources along with more professional insight to help with her son’s developmental skills. Her persistence paid off, and she found educational opportunities, exercises and activities that engaged her son on a consistent basis. I am happy to report, that at age 7, her son is walking, talking and has even begun to read!

Davis is a great example of a health advocate. She sought information and explored every resource she could find to help her son. She even started an organization called We Are the Village, Inc. in Gary, which provides educational opportunities and childcare for children with developmental disabilities. I applaud this young mother for playing an active role in her son’s diagnosis and now working to help other parents to do the same.

We Are the Village, Inc. is hosting a free “Autism Awareness Walk” on Saturday, April 10th from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at Marquette Park in Gary. This is a great opportunity for you to meet this phenomenal young woman and learn more about the local resources available to parents with autistic children. For more information, visit www.wearethevillageinc.com.

Remember, being a health advocate can make a huge difference! Your health matters!

(source: Autism society) 

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