'My son had autism. Then he didn't.'
One dad's story.
I'm trying to hold him, but he's squirming. The airport lounge is packed with people, and I can feel all eyes on me: the dad who cannot appease his toddler. Brandy sees me struggling and comes up with a quick fix. She flips over the stroller. She places Jackson next to it. He begins to spin one of the wheels with his hand. He keeps spinning it. Over and over and over. He's completely absorbed. I look at Brandy quizzically. She shrugs.
Jackson was 3 years old at the time, and by all accounts—from mother’s intuition to the experts’ definition—he was on the spectrum. The behavioral psychologists saw what we saw but were hesistant to make an official diagnosis. His brain is still developing. So much can change in six months. So time passed. His clothes went from 4T to 5T. Birthday candles were lit, blown out, and saved in the kitchen drawer. By age 6, the appointments with the behavioral psychologists were over. The autism books came off my wife's nightstand. Our tears were redirected to other things like kindergarten graduations.
From Healthy Living: Study says for some children, autism symptoms fade
It's a mystery we still don't understand. Did he have autism and develop out of it? Did he ever have autism? Slowly but surely, experts are unraveling this developmental disorder, and yesterday a small but groundbreaking study may just prove that Jackson is not alone.
Bing: Can autism just go away?
The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, researched 34 individuals ages 8 to 21 who had been diagnosed with autism early in life. The study found that they no longer had the symptoms. The conclusion: Some people may age out of autism. Of course, the autism community is buoyed by the findings, but are cautious to say this is a common outcome.
More: 10 moms changing the face of autism
Let's add to this discussion a study that appeared in Pediatrics last year. It focused on 61 children aged 14 to 35 months who were on the spectrum. Two years after their initial diagnosis, 20 percent of those children no longer met the ASD criteria, which suggests that either the children are improving or were misdiagnosed from the start.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of autism has consistently been on the rise. In 1998, it was 1 in 1,000. In 2002, it was 1 in 150. Today, it's 1 in 88. Is it our increasing awareness that’s inflating those figures? Is something mutating in our DNA? Does it lurk in our air or cleaning products or groundwater?
More from Healthy Living: What is autism, exactly?
That’s the thing with autism: There is no pathology. It’s not in the blood. Biopsies don’t detect it. It doesn’t appear when you shine a penlight into the pupil. It makes perfect sense that this disorder is represented in awareness campaigns by a puzzle piece.
More: Why I give my 9-year old pot
For our family, the autism spectrum was like the Alaskan winter. There was no light. The darkness went on and on and on. Then one day, a yolk-hued color broke across the horizon. And it stayed. But we haven't forgotten what the darkness was like.
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Also Autism is just a story, when I say story I mean I see books that talks about autism and it tells about it differently.
I accept autism and I have high hopes that they'll be some out there that understands my autism and accepts it.
The one thing we know about autism is how much we don't know. We don't understand what it is or why it is. We don't know why some children respond well to the assorted therapies and why some children don't. Because it is a spectrum disorder, I'm sure some children are misdiagnosed. I'm also sure that some children are so mildly affected that they can appear to age out of the disorder.
I don't think that we can make any blanket statements and be certain that we are correct. A child that is severely affected is easy to diagnose and is unlikely to "outgrow" the disorder. Is it possible that it is caused by an environmental factor that is eliminated from the environment? Is it possible that it is caused by a virus that some children's immune systems can reject?
I know that my son demonstrated many autistic like symptoms as a very young child. He didn't like to be touched. Any loud noise would send him into hysteria. Any change in routine would cause a total meltdown. He had to be forced to make eye contact. He could not be around strangers. He could not be approached by anyone other than those people he knew well. You could not turn on a vacuum cleaner if he was in the house. He engaged in repetitive behaviors that seemed to soothe him. His language skills were erratic and came and went.
Then, one day, he changed. It was abrupt. He went to bed one night still hypersensitive to every nuance in his environment and woke up the next morning able to cope. At the same time, all of his lingering allergy symptoms disappeared. His itchy eyes went away. His runny nose went away and he began interacting with other children.
Do I know what happened? No. I haven't any idea. I just said a prayer of thanks and went about raising a normal, if shy and sensitive, child.
So I don't think we can say with any absolute certainty what is going on or why the autism incidence is on the rise. When I first began to study autism it was a fairly rare disorder. Now it is common. A family would have one autistic child and three perfectly normal children. Now families have two or three children and all have autism. Does a disorder like this mutate? Is it somehow contagious and passed from one child to another? None of it makes much sense.
The person or persons who figure it out will probably win a Nobel prize.
I have also wondered if we are looking at two different disorders. The first disorder is true, classic autism and the second disorder is something that mimics autism but is caused by different factors and is more amenable to remission or treatment.
The problem is that autism is way OVER diagnosed-- this guy's child likely NEVER had autisim-- high functioning autism where the child can speak, is intelligent, can never be definitively dx'd until the child is at least 6-9 years old-- before that, especially with toddlers, it could just be normal behavior deviations.
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