Autism Awareness is Important! Contact Your legislators!
April, which is Autism Awareness Month, is almost upon us! As a practice comprised of pediatric therapists who evaluate and treat many children on the autism spectrum, Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas is grateful for national recognition of this developmental disability. It is important that our culture develops a better awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) since there are many implications for individuals, families, acquaintances, our smaller communities, and our nation as the result of this complex disorder.
According to the national Health and Human Services Commission’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network research, the rate of autism remains high, at 1 in 68 births. This is equal to 1.5% of births. According to ADDM’s most recent report, the 2016 Community Report on Autism, there doesn’t appear to be an increase in this rate comparing data from 2010 to 2012. However it is too early to determine if the rate of autism spectrum disorder has stabilized since the report revealed definite increases in some areas of the country during this period. It is good to know that this challenging disorder is targeted in research so that ongoing trends, treatments, outcomes and hopefully, cures will continue to be identified. The study also found that many children identified with ASD are not receiving a comprehensive evaluation as early as they could be, based on reported concerns. The research also found that black and hispanic children are less likely to be diagnosed with ASD and when they are identified, it is typically at a later age compared to white children. This is likely related to parents and caregivers, as well as medical professionals, being less aware of the early signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. So again, this is an important reason to increase awareness throughout our communities about ASD. Children need to be screened early! One thing is certain, early intervention is important for reaching the best outcomes for an individuals with autism.
To better understand this complex disorder, it might be helpful to review the 2013 American Psychiatric Association (APA) DSM 5 criteria for Autism spectrum disorder. This is the criteria medical professionals must use to determine diagnosis. This diagnosis is important for certain educational, governmental, and insurance funded services and treatments.
- Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive):
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
- Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and non-verbal communication.
- Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive):
- Stereotyped, or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g. simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
- Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g. extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).
- Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g. strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
- Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
- Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capabilities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
- Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
- These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.
If your family or a friend is impacted by ASD, it is important to understand the basics of this disorder. It is also important to help raise awareness in your community, by sharing information as well as personal challenges and victories with your neighbors, legislators, school boards, city councils, police departments, churches, recreation centers: anywhere you are connected. This increases the opportunities and understanding for your loved one on the spectrum in your community.
Right now is an excellent time to raise awareness of the needs of individuals with ASD with our policy makers in Austin and in Washington. Unfortunately, our elected officials don’t always understand the impact of their decisions on individuals with disabilities. Most long term services for individuals with disabilities are funded through Medicaid. In Texas, we have a 10 year waiting list for Medicaid waiver services. This waiver money is the funding that helps pay for attendant care, group homes, day habilitation programs, medications and medical care so we can keep individuals with disabilities in our communities and out of the State Supported Living Centers (State Schools).
Currently our US legislators are considering a bill called the American Health Care Act. As it is currently written, it will be crippling to services for individuals with disabilities and most likely to waiver services. And it is difficult to imagine the impact it might have on waiting lists. Call today and urge your representative to Vote No on this bill. Explain the importance of community based, quality services for your loved one on the Autism Spectrum. This bill will impact money available to the states, so it is critical to make your voice heard now!
Here are some links to help find and contact your legislators!
Let’s all work together to raise Autism Awareness in ourselves, in our communities and in our government!
Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas provides occupational therapy and speech therapy in Frisco, Plano and McKinney. We are network providers for many major plans. Please contact us at 972-424-0148 if we can assist you in any way.
For more information about ASD, visit: