Saturday, November 25, 2006

Commentary: 8 Myths of Julie Krasnow

Once again, I am here to rant about another Autism List that I see bouncing about a lot, and which I find problematic. Here it is:

Dispelling Myths of Autism
Indianapolis Star
Begin to help autistic children by dispelling myths
By Julie Krasnow

The word “autism” has become a more common term recently, due in large part
to the Autism Society of America reporting that autism now affects one in
166 children.

If you don’t know someone with autism, you probably will someday. April is National Autism Awareness Month. As the autism/behavior specialist for the Carmel Clay Schools, my job is to educate others about this disability. Without proper knowledge, many people afflicted with autism often are misunderstood.

I would like to share and resolve some misconceptions and myths to help raise awareness in our community.

Myth No. 1: Autism is caused by “refrigerator mothers.”

Many years ago, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim claimed that autism had a psychological causation: that the mothers of these children, intentionally or otherwise, did not love their children. The term “refrigerator mother” was born, referring to the fact that the mother was cold toward her child. Today we know that autism is a bioneurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Some theories suggest that it may be genetic, viral or caused by chemical exposure.

This idea is still more common than I would like. However, I would also like to file under this kind of ignorance the people who walk up to me in stores and tell me to discipline my child (and Joey isn't too bad in store, he likes them), people who ask us to leave resteraunts, and people who seem to blame us for Joey's quirks by proclaiming us "bad parents" either overtly or covertly.

I also would like to point out that many autistic adults seem to have a similar view of parents, by ignoring the sacrifices made by parents in trying to help them become independent, socially accepted (or acceptable) adults. You may not agree with how your parents raised you- but that just makes you human. To discount the effort to care for an autistic child and to raise an autistic child, we stand accused of being selfish and uncaring. Just wait until you have kids- which you wouldn't, if we didn't put forth extraordinary effort to help you learn to form and maintain relationships.

Myth No. 2: Autistic children show no emotion.

A common misconception is that children with autism are unloving and do not have any emotional feelings. On the surface, this may seem to be the case because they don’t always express their emotions in a way that you and I recognize. But for those of us who know a child with autism, we are aware of the ways that they show love and affection.

Commentary: My doctor was shocked when we first came back with a diagnosis of autism. The reaction? "But he's such a happy, loving child!" Yes, he is. I'd like to keep him happy and loving, thanks. (Our doctor has been extremely supportive, and interested in learning from Joey's case, by the way- and we're all for that!)

Myth No. 3: Children just need a good spanking

We’ve all been out to a grocery store or running errands when we come across a child throwing a temper tantrum, including screaming, throwing and hitting. We may wonder why parents are letting their child do this without any discipline or reprimands. If this is a child with autism, he most likely has lost control because of sensory overload. The sounds and visual stimulation and the overwhelming crowds are just too much for this child to take in, which results in a meltdown. Parents are unrightfully blamed for not disciplining their children.

Commentary: Yes, and we're awful parents, so what's our problem? Returning to those people who come up to me in the store and tell me about my kid: who the hell are you?

At the same time, I would like to take a moment to mention the folks who come up to me in that same store and tell me what beautiful children I have, even though Andy turns his head away and Joey giggles and asks them something strange. Thank you. Its lovely to know we're giving someone else pleasure, and I hope you enjoy my children as they are.

Myth No. 4: You’re born with autism.

On average, autism is diagnosed at 44 months of age.

Commentary: Joey was born with autism. The time of diagnosis is not the moment you start being autistic. However, autism can be triggered. This note seems to say children are not born with autism; they are. However, there are also children who were neuro-typical, and then have autism triggered by an event- and not always a clear, overnight event.

Myth No. 5: Vaccines do not cause autism.

The jury is still out on this one. Although a recent Institute of Medicine report appears to refute an association between vaccines and autism, the major autism organizations all agree that more research needs to be conducted. A recent study suggests that children receiving vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal are many times more likely to develop autism than those who receive thimerosal-free vaccines.

Commetnary: Joey received thimerosal-free vaccines. He's still autistic. However, I cannot discount that vaccines can be triggers. Vaccines place the body under stress, and stress can trigger autism. However, mumps, measles, rubella, whooping cough, hepatitis, chicken pox, pneumonia, flu, diptheria, tetanus, etc. also put the body under stress, and can trigger autism. On top of that, they can kill you. I recommend vaccination, though we put off the MMR a bit to make sure Joey and Andy had strong immune systems to handle it. I think the MMR is usually 18 months, we waited until 24. Andy is fine. Joey was already not fine.

Myth No. 6: Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rain Man” is typical of a person
with autism.

The character in “Rain Man” was a high-functioning person with autism and also was a savant. In reality, only 2 percent of those diagnosed exhibit such savant capabilities.

Commentary: If "Rain Man" is a high-functioning autistic person, then I can't really blame people who want to "cure" it. I would consider "Rain Man" to be a medium-functioning person, not a high-functioning person. His savant abilities were not typical. Unfortunately, his social skill and functioning level is pretty middle-of-the-road. He was verbal, but unable to live independently or function in society. With the current understanding of autism and therapies for helping these children learn, we are all hoping to have people with autism be able to be less disabled than Rain Man.

Myth No. 7: The increase in the rate of autism is due to better diagnosing.

Ten years ago, the rate of autism was 1 in 10,000 births. Today it is 1 in 166. This is a 5,000 percent increase in 10 years. If this astonishing increase is due to better diagnosing, where are the thousands of autistic adults who should have received a diagnosis 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

Commentary: There is better diagnosing. There is also better treatment. However, I have the same question. I know autistic adults. But I know far more autistic children. Where are the ASD adults? Where is even the rumor of them? In my neighborhood, there are 3 autistic kids that I know of. However, in my wide range of contacts, friends, acquaintences, etc., I have only one person I know has an ASD, and not even a whisper of anyone, a sibling, a cousin, an aunt, uncle, etc., with ASD, Einstein Syndrome, or other problems that could indicate ASD. Why?

So I don;t think it is all better diagnosing. There really is a problem here, and it would be nice to figure out why were are seeing such a dramatic increase in ASD people.

Myth No. 8: Autism is a rare disorder.

With 1 in 166 children being diagnosed with autism, it can no longer be called rare. We have an epidemic on our hands. Every 16 minutes, another child is diagnosed with autism. For all of us who have had the privilege of knowing, loving or working with a child with autism, we are able to see their abilities through the disability and appreciate the child within. I am pleased to report to the community that my Carmel Clay colleagues and I are working very hard to provide the best education we can for students who have been diagnosed with autism.

Commentary: Autism was rare. Now it is not. There is a .5% chance that your next baby will be autistic.
About 2.2% of children 0-2 are disabled.
The chances of infant mortality is 7 in 1000 births, or .07%.
The chances of a preterm baby is 1 in 8, or 12%.
The chances of a multiple birth is about 3.4%.
The chances of Down Syndrome is 1 in 733. That's a .013% chance.

If you would like more information, please e-mail or
call (317) 846-3086, ext. 1247.

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