Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April is Autism Awareness Month

I know it's the end of April, but I wanted to focus on Autism Awareness Month for a minute and especially how it impacts those in the Black (African-American) community.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today.

Source: Autism Society - About Autism 

Many black children with autism, who, according to one study of children on Medicaid, are diagnosed on average about 18 months later than white children.

While a year-and-a-half may not seem like a long time, it is in the life of a child with this developmental disorder, which affects brain function and impedes social interaction and communication skills.

"It is crucial to identify children with autistic-spectrum disorders as early as possible, as studies have demonstrated that the provision of early, intensive, high-quality intervention services is associated with improved outcomes,'' said Dr. Thyde Dumont-Mathieu, a developmental pediatrician at the University of Connecticut with a clinical practice at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford.

A toddler diagnosed with autism may qualify for 15 hours of services per week through the state's Birth to Three program, Dumont-Mathieu said. If not identified, that same child may not get referred to the program, may receive less intensive services and may not benefit from the behavioral approaches recommended for children with autism-spectrum disorders.

Concern is widespread on both national and local levels about whether black children and other minorities are getting diagnosed early enough or are being misdiagnosed.

"It's a hugely important issue,'' said Marguerite Colston of the Autism Society of America in Bethesda, Md. "We have been crying out for attention to minority families with autism for years.''

Source: Charleston Daily News (29 May 2007)

Two African American stars that have children with autism are Toni Braxton and Holly Robinson Peete.

Toni Braxton frequenty partners with Autism Speaks.
 After Toni Braxton’s youngest son Diesel was diagnosed with autism at age three, she blamed herself - a feeling she still carries with her five years later. The Grammy award-winning singer opens up about her family’s journey, which reformatted her relationship with her husband Keri Lewis (they’re now separated) and strengthened the bond between her sons. And, she offers hope to parents dealing with the condition – her son is now attending public school thanks, in part, to early diagnosis.
Source: The Autism News
Holly Robinson Peete has her own non-profit, HollyRod Foundation.
When Holly Robinson Peete's son RJ was diagnosed with autism in 2000 at the age of 3, Holly and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, found their world turned upside down. They weathered a challenging personal storm and then decided to share their story to provide hope to other families. Through their HollyRod Foundation, which focuses on improving the lives of children with autism, Robinson Peete has become an advocate for consistent and reliable education, outreach and support of families affected by autism.

Holly Robinson Peete also has two awesome books on Autism. One is for children that was written with her daughter about what it is like to grow up with a sibling who has autism. The book is entitled My Brother Charlie. The second books is entitled Not My Boy!: A Father, A Son, and One Family's Journey with Autism and it is authored by her husband Rodney Peete.

Know the Signs: Early Identification Can Change Lives
Autism is treatable. Children do not "outgrow" autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

Here are some signs to look for in the children in your life:
  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects
 Source: Autism Society

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