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Autism: Spectrums of a locked world

MIKE MCGEE | 1/26/2015, noon
“Autism” can be a confusing, troubling word for a parent. To many, it still conjures up images of mystery, mental ...
Child Growth Chart CDC

The Dallas Examiner

“Autism” can be a confusing, troubling word for a parent. To many, it still conjures up images of mystery, mental retardation or children trapped within an unbreachable emotional cocoon.

However, the concept of autism is changing. The term “autism” doesn’t carry the same medical meaning that it once did.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assigns “autism” to part of a bigger spectrum known as Autism Spectrum Disorders. The website states that ASDs “are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavior challenges.”

The CDC breaks down ASDs into three different types. Autistic Disorder is what people commonly think of as “autism.” It is marked by major delays in language development in individuals. Those who carry the diagnosis have “unusual behaviors and interests,” according to the CDC. “Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.”

The second type of ASD is Asperger Syndrome. This is on the ‘higher’ end of the spectrum, since people with this condition are very functional. While Aspies – as those with the syndrome sometimes call themselves – may have unusual interests and behaviors, the CDC identified “… They typically do not have problems with language or intellectual disability.”

The third type of ASD is called Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified or atypical autism.

“People with PDD-NOS usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges,” the CDC cited.

While autism disorders can occur in any ethnic group, the CDC links to a study, “Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, Untied States, 2008” that found in most cases ASDs were more prevalent in Whites than in Hispanics or Blacks. The same study noted that ASDs are five times more common in boys than in girls.

Mike Freiley, a resident of Kessler Park, knows firsthand the struggles autism can bring. Both he and his 12-year-old son Matthew have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome.

“With Asperger Syndrome, the biggest issues with both my son and I, are things like missing social cues and/or a lack of empathy,” Freiley explained. “Along with quirky, sometimes annoying tics … I think society should know that people with Asperger Syndrome are not afflicted. They are different. A different way of thinking.

“Society should also learn that Aspies have certain things that they want to know everything about,” he continued. “Whether it be science or engineering, an Aspie will most likely excel at these things.”

According to the CDC, many causes of ASDs remain known. Genetics seems to be the biggest factor, although taking prescription drugs like valproic acid and thalidomide during pregnancy “have been linked to a higher risk of ASDs,” the website says.

A small segment of children born premature or with a low birth weight also has a risk of developing symptoms of ASDs.

The Callier Center for Communication Disorders at The University of Texas at Dallas specializes in the treatment of individuals with ASDs. Dr. Suzanne Bonifert, the head of Speech-Language Pathology, and Dr. Jamie Cato, a Speech-Language Pathologist, see autistic patients every day.