According to the Center for Disease Control in 2007, autism affects 1 out of every 150 children, up from 1 out of every 10,000 in 1980. Even if you account for over-diagnoses and other factors, the increase and current rate is terrifying, afflicting children with a single or multitude of issues such as limited speech, decreased cognitive ability and social interaction, sensory issues, ticks, seizures, lack of eye contact, digestive problems, and many more characteristics are Autism Spectrum Disorders. Symptoms vary significantly with some children being slightly affected while others are painfully debilitated. From Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) to Autism, there is an epidemic affecting our children, with boys four times more likely to be afflicted than girls, and there is just a whisper of an outcry, no preventive programs and up until now no cure.
Part of the problem is that no one knows for certain why or who can be afflicted. One theory gaining interest is that the child will have a genetic predisposition, which is then exasperated by environmental factors. The medical community is starting to scratch the surface and recently, the prestigious English medical journal, The Lancet, reported that artificial food colors and additives in food have a significant affect in fueling hyperactive behaviors in children at least through middle childhood. There are other medical journals that speculate that the chemicals in air, water, food, and even some medicines negatively affect our bodies and to small children the impact is greater due to their developing bodies and its inability to process this over saturation. While there is no cure, some parents, scientists and doctors believe that an organic diet, restricted diets such as gluten and casein-free, spacing out vaccinations, limiting exposure to chemicals and unnatural items, getting therapies such as state-run early intervention programs, can help to minimize and improve symptoms.
While Autism initially conjures up stereotypical images of Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man, or an incoherent child sitting alone in their own world, Autism can no longer be stereotyped. While there are children who are profoundly affected, there are many more who go on to enjoy full, wonderful lives compensating for their deficits, as we all do. There are people who are on the Autism spectrum all around you.
In an attempt to break the myths of autism and allow you to see just how beautiful and capable these children are, there is an excellent HBO documentary called the Autism: The Musical (themiracleproject.com), that premiered on March 25 and available now on HBO on Demand. Following five special needs children all with varying degrees of affliction, you see the effect it has on them and their parents as they are honestly presented in their struggles and joy as the children, guided by Elaine Hall, its founder, realize their theatrical goal with support, trust, confidence, and respect. It covered profound issues such as the daily constant struggle, prohibitive costs and lack of options for therapies and schools, and the daily strain on both the children and their parents. The lyrics and music are thoughtfully written in part by Stephen Stills and Neil Young, both champions of children's health causes, and are clearly relatable to daily issues facing the children. This program helps to build self-esteem and challenge these children to look beyond their current capabilities and achieve new unprecedented goals as they redefine the world of Autism. Other charities also help afflicted children such as, Autism Speaks, 4-A Healing.com, the Bridge School Foundation and the National Autistic Society to name a few.
Autism research is one of the most under-funded disorders in the United States yet it will eventually touch us all unless we can start to address it now.