Shortly after his first birthday, Shawn Stockman says his son Micah suddenly began to change. The R&B singer who earned accolades and world-renown as one fourth of the group Boyz II Men says he never expected that his son would develop a condition that would change both of their lives -- autism.
"It was drastic because Micah was the first one to talk, he was the first one to walk. Everything seemed to be very, very normal," Stockman told CNN, describing how he learned he had a twin son with autism. "I did not know what to do, and one thing a man hates when it comes down to his family is not knowing what to do," Stockman said.
According to the CDC, symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) vary greatly from one child to the next. While some show hints of future problems within the first few months of life, others may not show any signs until 24 months or later.
Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had. Studies have shown that one third to half of parents of children with an ASD noticed a problem before their child’s first birthday, and nearly 80%–90% saw problems by 24 months of age.
But while the rate of diagnosis for autism spectrum disorders appears to be the same among all racial groups -- one in 88 -- a study by a Florida State University researcher published earlier this year found that African-American children tend to be diagnosed with autism later than white children, resulting in a longer and more intensive intervention.
Last fall, The Huffington Post spoke with five moms of children with autism -- Shannon Nash, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Donna Hunter, LaDonna Hughley and Tammy McCrary -- whose quest for answers in diagnosing and treating their children for ASD is documented in a short film called "Colored My Mind."
For most of these moms, the biggest challenge has been a lack of knowledge. When Hughley's son Kyle was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of seven, for example, "no one was talking about autism," she says. "At that time they were using verbiage like 'retarded'" she adds. Kyle is now 22.
"It seems like every five to 10 years you see these shifts in the autism treatments and movements and acceptance," says Nash. "It's getting better and better, but you've gotta have access to it, you've gotta know about it and be educated about it," she says, explaining how her son benefited from early intervention.
But the cost of those early autism intervention treatments is the biggest challenge for many parents, Stockman says. "We've learned in the midst of our journey with Micah how fortunate we are to have money. There's no way a normal couple or a single mom could afford this."
Campbell-Martin estimated that six months worth of treatment for her son, Xen, cost $100,000.
In January, experts from the American Psychiatric Association proposed changes to the definition of autism, which would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed, according to the New York Times. It might also make it harder, however, for those who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services the research suggests.
Stockman says that the financial barriers to autism treatment are the reason he has launched a non-profit called Micah's Voice, dedicated to footing the bill for one to two families seeking treatment for autism each year.
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