Autism mysteries

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Earlier this month, Taylor Crowe, a local artist who has autism, wrote a wonderful piece about how he has overcome many stereotypes and predictions regarding the disorder.

Crowe is an inspiration to many parents locally and nationwide whose children are dealing with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Crowe, who occasionally draws local editorial cartoons for the Southeast Missourian, speaks nationally about how his parents rejected the notion that he would not be able to regain his language after losing it as a toddler. And they made sure that Taylor was included with typically developing peers. Crowe was able to make friends and find mentors who helped him along the way.

Autism has been in the news a lot in the past few weeks. April is Autism Awareness Month. There are still so many mysteries surrounding the disorder. The latest studies show that as many as one in 88 U.S. children (one in 54 boys, one in 252 girls) are affected by autism. There are many degrees of autism, which is why it is called a spectrum disorder. The ratio of children diagnosed is nearly double today than it was even 10 years ago; then, it was estimated that one in 150 children were autistic.

The Associated Press reported last week that more than $1 billion has been spent over the past decade searching for a cause. There have been many theories, but no consensus as to what causes autism or why prevalence is increasing. But researchers are optimistic that answers are coming.

"I do think over the next three to five years we'll be able to paint a much clearer picture of how genes and environmental factors combine" to cause autism, said Geraldine Dawson, a psychologist who is chief science officer for Autism Speaks.

We indeed hope the answers are coming.

Autism affects many of our friends and neighbors. We have highly qualified professionals who provide services to help autistic children learn. Southeast Missouri has come a long way in providing help for families.

But there is still more work to be done.

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