Posts Tagged ‘diagnosis’

Autism Boom: An Epidemic of Disease or Discovery?

December 16, 2011 24 comments

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer is from Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

Earlier this week, the LA Times ran a provocative article under the questioning headline above. It suggested that autism’s twentyfold increase over the last generation may be “more of a surge in diagnosis than in disease.” In fact, scientific evidence suggests that autism’s dramatic increase is only partially explained by improved screening and diagnosis.

Some of the clearest evidence of this increase comes from research documenting a 600 percent jump in autism caseload in California between 1992 and 2006. In related studies (here and here), Peter Bearman estimated that around 42 percent of the increase can be explained by changes in diagnostic methods and awareness with another 11 percent possibly due to increases in parental age at the time of conception (a known risk factor).

Taking into account all the factors that have been studied, this leaves approximately half of the increase due to still-unidentified factors. Through research, we’re increasing our understanding of these influences. For example, we now know that prematurity and extreme low-birth weight increase autism risk in babies. Certainly survival rates for premature and very low birth weight infants have increased considerably over the last twenty years.

While no single factor is likely to explain the marked increase in autism’s prevalence, researchers agree that a number of influences likely work together to determine the risk that a child will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Bottom line: It is undeniable that more children are being diagnosed with ASD than ever before. The need for increased funding for autism science and services has never been greater. Autism costs society is a staggering $35 billion per year. And with more cases, that figure is likely to increase. Fortunately, there is clear evidence that earlier identification and intervention and supports throughout the lifespan can improve outcomes and quality of life.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, please see the “Learn the Signs” page of our website. If you are an adult struggling with issues that might be related to autism, please follow the hyperlinks to our resource page for adults and our page on Asperger Syndrome.

Got more questions? Send them to And join our next live webchat with Dr. Dawson and her co-host, Autism Speaks assistant vice president and head of medical research Joe Horrigan, MD on January 5th. More information on their monthly webchats here.

In Their Own Words – I Want My Money Back

September 29, 2011 94 comments

John Scott Holman struggled with undiagnosed autism for nearly 25 years. His diagnosis has enabled him to embrace his individuality and move forward. He writes and speaks publicly about his life with autism, hoping to inspire greater understanding and acceptance. Visit his Facebook page here.

At the tender age of fifteen, I saw my first psychologist, a stern, elderly man who smelled like a second hand bookstore. His full, wiry beard, was speckled with white and gray, as if it had caught the contents of an overturned ashtray. It fell past his chest, disappearing beneath the edge of his massive, oak desk. I wondered if it reached his toes, and leaned forward awkwardly, hoping for a revealing glimpse.

“Young man,” he said, startling me. “Tell me why you’re here.”

“Do you shampoo that beard?” I asked.

“Excuse me…”

“You look like Charles Darwin.”

He leaned back and stared at me, mildly annoyed, as if I was a fly he had noticed swimming in his coffee. “Your family is concerned by you behavior. I believe…”

“I commend you, sir!” I interrupted. “The world is experiencing a shortage of truly magnificent facial hair; you’ve got the best beard I’ve seen all year! You know who else had a good beard? Sigmund Freud. Are you a Freudian psychologist?”

“Young man, let’s try to stay on topic.”

“Right, beards… Nobody could beat Tolstoy’s beard. Now that dude had a beard!”

“Young man!” he bellowed, startling me again.

“Humph… Young man,” I muttered. “Just ‘cause I can’t grow a big fancy beard…”

The psychologist lifted a notepad from his desk and began scribbling absentmindedly. “I’m afraid,” he said, “that you have a very serious case of Bipolar Disorder.”

“Huh? How do you know? I’ve only been here for five minutes!”

“Trust me; I’ve been around a long time.”

“But… I’ve never had a manic episode, and the DSM-IV clearly states…”

“You, my dear boy, are an upstart!” the psychologist fumed, a fat, blue vein trembling in his forehead.

“Ok, chill dude… I’m bipolar. Whatever you say… Beethoven was bipolar. I don’t think he had a beard though…”

For as long as I can remember, people have been trying to figure me out. Other parents told my mother and father that I was clearly lacking discipline. Teachers refused me an education unless I was prescribed enough Ritalin to keep the Rolling Stones touring for another century. Pastors believed I was possessed, and prepared to wipe my projectile vomit from the pews when I trotted into Sunday morning service.

Hyperactive, precocious, and more than a little odd, I was truly a handful. Snakes, snails, and puppy dog tails? If only my mother was so lucky. Someone must have littered my gene pool with pixie sticks, happy meals, mountain dew, and an Encyclopedia Britannica.

“There’s something wrong with him,” my mother would sob. “He’s allergic to people! He won’t sit still, he won’t listen, he’s always hurting himself, and he’s smarter than my whole graduating class put together!”

I treated other children like overgrown action figures, ordering them about, an infantile Cecil B. Demille directing a playground epic. “C’mon Tina, say that line again, and this time, say it with feeling! Put down the Polly Pocket and explain your character’s motivation!” Eventually, my peers developed their own interests, and I was left to wander the playground alone, thinking of Ghostbusters, Power Rangers, and… existential motifs in Russian literature.

“Scotty’s latest obsession,” was a phrase used regularly to describe the most current of my all encompassing interests. At twelve years-old, I had forgotten more randomly collected information than most people will learn in college. My obsessions gradually became less and less age appropriate as my focus narrowed; retired barbiturate and amphetamine combinations used as antidepressants in the 50s and 60s; sadomasochistic undertones in the cinema of Joseph von Sternberg; and the impact of synesthesia on the literature of Vladimir Nabokov; to name a select few.

I wasn’t interested in girls, or boys, for that matter. My parents bought me a Mustang for my sixteenth birthday – I drove it all of three times. I wore the same few outfits day after day. I was diagnosed with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and, of course, Bipolar Disorder.

True, I was rather emotionally volatile, but this was greatly exacerbated by the constant chaos which engulfed my family. My father had played major league Baseball for the Seattle Mariners, and was absent for the majority of my childhood. As a result of his career, my family moved dozens of times before I was ten years-old. When I was twelve, my eight year-old brother fell 31 feet from a ski lift, nearly dying.  If that wasn’t enough, the routine MRI, which followed his accident, revealed a tumor in his brain. He  later underwent a dangerous surgery to have it removed. My adopted sister was diagnosed with leukemia at three years-old. My father required an open heart surgery to repair a leaking mitral valve.

Though thoroughly weary of hospitals, I was typically content to find a quiet corner of the waiting room and study Italian Neorealism – “Scott, your sister is dying, no one wants to hear about Federico Fellini!”

Psychiatrists pumped me full of every neuroleptic in the book (Adderall and Celexa, medications which I am now benefiting enormously from, were withheld because they are contraindicated in cases of Bipolar Disorder). I was as incoherent as Mel Gibson at happy hour, and experienced agonizing side-effects which led me to attempt suicide.

My sister died at ten years-old, after battling leukemia for seven years. I was holding her hand when she passed. I was fed up with life, convinced that I was a waste of oxygen in a cruel and meaningless world.

I began heavily abusing street drugs, playing intravenous Russian roulette with every pill and powder I could get my hands on. I would wake up on the cool linoleum of my bathroom floor cursing my indestructibility – I was still alive.

I spent time in mental hospitals and treatment centers. Luckily, my obsession with drugs had a shelf life, as all my obsessions do. I lost interest and moved on.

At 24 years-old, my girlfriend suggested that I might have Asperger Syndrome.


“Scott,” she said, “you can recite every line of the movie Cabaret, yet you haven’t seen it since you were thirteen. You just listed every currently marketed benzodiazepine in alphabetical order, apparently for my entertainment.


“You’re a walking dictionary but you can’t remember your own address. Not only can you not drive, you can’t figure out which of the three cars parked in your driveway is mine. I think you should see a doctor.”

“I’ve seen them all.”


“Ok… ok… Wait, I’m autistic? I want my money back…”

How did I manage to live a quarter of a century without being properly diagnosed. I’m autistic – duh!

Discovering my autism has been my saving grace. I will never forget the overwhelming emotions that poured over me when I first read about Asperger Syndrome in the DSM-IV. I’m not broken. I’m not bad. I’m just autistic and that is alright!  Since being formally diagnosed, I’ve come to understand and embrace myself for the remarkable person I am. In a few short months, I’ve become a prolific autistic writer, with a column appearing this week on, a potential contract with a publishing company, translations of my articles in Hebrew, public speaking engagements, and an opportunity to travel to San Francisco to help Alex Plank and crew film a documentary on Hacking Autism.

Somebody pinch me!

Even when I had given up on myself, God had a plan for my life. I now have the opportunity to use my gifts to spread awareness of autism spectrum disorders. If sharing my experiences spares other autistics from going through the pain of living undiagnosed, my struggles will not have been in vain.

My diagnosis has been my vindication and my inspiration. I want to shout it from the rooftops; “I’m autistic!”

Well, better late than never.

Seriously though, I want my money back…

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

LIVE Q & A Transcript with Co-Founder Suzanne Wright

September 22, 2011 3 comments

Suzanne and Bob Wright are co-founders of Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Inspired by the challenges facing their grandson, who suffers from autism, they launched the foundation in February 2005.

Suzanne has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s National Women’s Division and The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

In 2008, Suzanne and Bob were named in Time 100’s Heroes and Pioneers category, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the NYU Child Advocacy Award, the Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and the American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In the past couple of years the Wrights have received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, St. Joseph’s University and UMass Medical School – they delivered respective commencement addresses at the first two of these schools. The Wrights are the first married couple to be bestowed such an honor in St. John’s history.

The Wrights have three children and five grandchildren.

Click here to read A Grandparent’s Guide to Autism.

Hi – I’m Suzanne Wright – Co-founder of Autism Speaks and I’m so happy to be joining this web chat today!
Comment From James McDonald

Good Afternoon

Comment From sha

thankyou for your time

Comment From Lucas mom


I’m here today as Christian’s grandmother – and I’d like to talk about my role as a grandparent and advocate.
Comment From donna

Good Afternoon all

We are so excited about our new toolkit which is a grandparent’s guide to autism which can be downloaded for free on our website.
Comment From Emily

Hi Suzanne, I have a brother with Autism and just want to say thank you for your time you put into Autism Speaks.

Hi Emily.  Thanks for your kind words – I do this for Christian and for all families and individuals affected by autism.  Thanks for joining our discussion today.
Comment From Lalania Lind

I have a question. Did your family find it hard to get help from the education system for Christian?

Hi Lalania – very much so. Here is a guide that we provide from autism speaks – a School Community Tool Kit which can give you some advice – and an our IEP – Individual Education Program toolguide – which provides process and practical tips to knowing your child’s rights.
Comment From Carol

Hello Suzanne! Thank you for coming on to talk with us grandparents today. I was wondering what activities you like to do with Christian.

Hi Carol! We love to swim with Christian… he loves to go to the playground, he loves to go to the beach and swim in the waves, and he just made a beautiful little necklace for me so we’re starting on some arts and crafts these days.
Comment From Melissa

My son’s grandmother is a great advocate for our son. He’s now 8 and enrolled in a private Christian school here in Atlanta after spending 3 years in an intensive program at Emory University. I could talk to you all day about all the things she’s done for him and for us. Thank you to Autism Speaks for first jumpstarting our family into seeking treatment for our son back in 2005.

Melissa, hi. You have a wonderful mom. Speaking as a mom I knew from the get go just how important it was to be there not only for my grandson, but for his parents as well. We are glad that Autism Speaks was able to help your family at a very sensitive and critical time.
Comment From Sally

How do I share my time with my other grandchildren?

Hi Sally. This is VERY important. Not only for the sibling of the child affected but for the little cousins too. We as a family take turns with Christian when we are all together so I can spend some time with his brother and cousins. I must say that they are beginning to understand what autism is, and I do spend time trying to explain why special needs.
Comment From Annie

This Halloween we will trick or treat for Autism Speaks and ask for donations in lieu of candy! My 3 yr old son, Jamey doesn’t like candy, but he is autistic and that’s how I came up with this idea.

Hi Annie – We LOVE your idea and we’ll be posting it on our website!! I love the fact that you found a way to celebrate Halloween in your own special way.
Comment From patricia chabra

I am PAtricia Chabra,I have two son with ASD disorder,I have been doing autism walk for years,advocating for children and adults affected,you are such a mentor and inspirational person suzanne,god bless you

Hi Patricia – even though it’s not possible for me to be at every walk I am always there in spirit. I’m glad to be connecting with you now here – thank you for all your kind words and God Bless you too.
Comment From Donna McCombs

First, Thank you for giving your time to us for this chat. How can I teach my daughter’s grandparents to be more understanding about her disorder?

Hi Donna – our new Grandparent Tool Kit addresses this very issue. It will absolutely give you pointers on how to interact with the other set of grandparents who may be as supportive as your own parents. I really hope this helps – I know how difficult it is.
Comment From Stephanie

I have a grandson named Jaylin and we have been trying to find him weighted blanket he gets to hot if we put the ones he want but wont sleep without them so we was told about the blanket just cant find them.

Hi Stephanie – we have a list of sensory products on our website.
Comment From mark

hi Suzanne!:) im mark from the philippines. i’m glad about organizations such as Autism Speaks and really appreciate the facebook account. I have a brother with autism; just wondering, Whats the latest research in autism, such as its cause or new teaching methods given to autistic children?

Hi Mark! I’ll give you a link to our science which contains the most up to date and cutting edge science news. On another note we have our Light It Up Blue campaign which runs worldwide during the month of April. Can you help me light up some buildings in the Philippines blue?? We want to light up the world!
Mark – I hope your brother is doing ok.
Comment From Melanie Hobbs

Hi Suzanne and other parents/grandparents! LOVE Autism Speaks and the Light it up Blue campaign. One thing I’d love to see is resources and ideas for grandparents for toys/gifts. My son is 9 and there are tons of “autism toy” ideas for younger kids, but I would love to find more ideas for older kids. When it comes to birthday time, Grant’s grandparents are always at a loss (and sometimes I am too!). :)

Hi Melanie! First, thanks for helping us to Light It Up Blue! We actually have a Toys R Us online guide which was specifically created for differently-abled kids.
Comment From Melissa

It was actually the Autism Speaks series on NBC back in February 2005 that made us realize what we had been dealing with for 18 months despite protests from our pediatrician to the contrary. Our son was then diagnosed with classic autism that April. He’s now mainstreamed with no educational supports, is on the A honor roll, and has become a bit of a musical prodigy much to our delight. We just recently told him about his autism and he’s still wrapping his head around it. We are finding his classmates are beginning to notice his social and behavioral differences and wondered if AS had any suggestions on how to explain what autism is to young non-sibling children.

Hi Melissa – great question. There’s portion of our School Community Tool Kit devoted to peers. I’m so happy that you were able to see our Autism Speaks series on NBC. In Feb. 2005 no one was talking about autism – now we have our country but the world talking about it. If you are not familiar with our Light it Up Blue campaign I’d love to have your help to shine a light on autism.
Comment From Sally

At this point in my life it is too hard for me to talk “live” with other grandparents. Are there any Grandparent support chat rooms?

Hi Sally. We would love for you to check out the grandparent autism network – which provides support and resources for grandparents.
Comment From Guest

Hi I’m Flo from Germany. I am an SLP who has worked with autism fro many years. It is so encouraging to be able to use the web to support families affected by ASD.

Hi Flo. Yes it is very encouraging – what would we do with the internet. Please be sure to connect with us on all of our social networks. And also – help us light Germany up blue!
I need grandparents!! I feel we should have the support of the AARP with the numbers being what they are; 1 in 70 boys and 1 in 110 children. Thousands of grandparents without question are affected by autism. Here is a link to the President of the AARP: the Board. ask them to help Autism Speaks and our grandparent community to raise awareness about the issues that affect our children and grandchildren with autism by making our grandparent tool kit( available on their website and feature an article on autism in their AARP Magazine during the month of April, Autism Awareness Month.
It’s so important that the AARP join Autism Speaks – because autism affects everyone – the child, the parents, the siblings, the friends, the teachers, and the Grandparents – who often become the child’s emotional rock.
Comment From Lania

But how do you get a grandparent to come out of denial? We have been trying for years to help our daughters grandparent that she has autism, but she just will not believe us or the doctors.

Hi Lania – you know, everyone deals with the diagnosis differently, and I certainly feel for your situation. We have a 100 Day Kit which helps families through the newly diagnosed period. As part of the 100 Day Kit – we have a “Learn the Signs” section describes the hallmark signs of autism in detail. So maybe presenting this information to your daughter’s grandparent will help them understand the diagnosis of autism better.
Comment From Donna McCombs

Our grandparents on both sides say that if she had more discipline she would not have any behavior issues.

Donna – the misconception is that aspects of autism is about lack of discipline. This is not the case. Please go to our Learn the Signs and our Grandparent tool kit – I really hope this helps.
You can learn the signs here!
It has been such a wonderful experience chatting with so many of you today. I really hope that our Autism Speaks website offers you the resources that you need as you navigate through the complexity of living with autism. Know that we are here for you and appreciate all your support. The more people who know about autism will be more willing to help ALL families everywhere. And we can raise the global consciousness by lighting up the world blue in April. Thank for the opportunity to chat with all of you today. Happy Autumn Day. Suzanne Wright

The Grandparent Connection in Families Affected by Autism

September 13, 2011 56 comments

In recognition of National Grandparents Day, on September 11th Autism Speaks is celebrating the  grandparent connection in families affected by autism. During the month of September, we are asking grandparents to share your experiences, so that other grandparents across the country can benefit from your knowledge and the road you have traveled. 

Like the parents of children with autism, grandparents can have different reactions and responses when they learn their grandchild was diagnosed with autism. What was this like for you? What helped you through this difficult time? What gave you hope for the future for your family and grandchild?

Screen All Children for Autism

June 28, 2011 5 comments

By Geri Dawson, Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks

Last week, a paper was published in Pediatrics that argued against the routine screening for autism by pediatricians. Three investigators who are part of the Autism Speaks Baby Siblings Research Consortium and I submitted a letter to the editor in response to this paper, which has now been published.  The link to the original article and the letter are provided below.  Our letter provides a strong rationale and empirical evidence to support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations that all children be screened for autism at their 18 and 24 month checkups.

This exchange highlights the important role of the scientific research in directly influencing policy and clinical practice.  We were able to cite research, much of which was conducted by Autism Speaks Baby Siblings Research Consortium investigators, to counter the inaccurate statements by the authors of the Pediatrics paper.

Read the letter, Why it is important that screening for autism be provided in routine pediatric carehere. The original paper is available here.

Family Services ‘100 Day Tool Kit’ LIVE Facebook Chat

June 20, 2011 6 comments

Join us Wednesday, June 22nd at 5 pm EST for an online Facebook chat with the Family Services Staff. Using the 100 Day Tool Kit as our guide, we will focus on what you can do during the first 100 days following your child’s diagnosis and the steps you can take to get stated.

In Their Own Words – Expectations

July 28, 2010 8 comments

This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Erin Perry. Her son was diagnosed in March of this year. You can read more about Erin and her family at their website Autism Village.

Life is full of expectations. From the minute we all enter the world, we are expected to do things like walk, talk, go to school, have a first kiss, graduate, get a job, have a family – the list goes on and on. So entrenched are these expectations that we live our lives by them, become upset or disappointed when we don’t meet our own (or more likely when other people don’t meet ours) , and we judge others according to them. Expectations are a powerful tool – but when you have a child with autism, in an instant every expectation you once had, is ripped away leaving you feeling raw, vulnerable, and frankly, scared.

I have always been a very driven person. I expect a lot of myself, and I expect a lot of others. So when I found out I was pregnant, I built up in my head what my life would be like with a child. I imagined taking family vacations and watching my son play sports. I thought about  the late night conversations we would have when he came home too late for curfew. I expected that it would all be typical, normal, and even (dare I say) easy.

With Brayden’s diagnosis, I have learned there is only one thing to expect – the unexpected. The first adjustment I had to make was letting go of those later in life dreams, for now. No more thinking about college and grandkids – my son lives in the moment, and I had to learn how to alter the way I thought to only include the immediate future. Instead of looking forward to college, we work with every breath to hopefully get Brayden to kindergarten, and maybe even in a mainstream classroom, but that is about as far in the future we go.

On the other side, when we heard the final diagnosis of autism, certain expectations also go along with it. It’s the long list of things your child may not and will not ever do. But that’s the funny thing about autism – just when you expect your child to never do something, he will blow away that expectation. My child has a frequent habit of doing  just that. For me, I believe it’s his own little way of saying, “See, mommy, I can do it – keep pushing, keep going.”

Today at Brayden’s new developmental preschool, he sat in a classroom full of seven or eight of his peers, and when the teacher sang “Old McDonald had a…” and stopped, waiting for one child to shout out an animal so the song could continue – my son screamed out, “A COW!” For those unfamiliar with my son, he very rarely says anything without a prompt by an adult to do so. What most people would expect a child of 2 1/2 to do naturally and easily…turned out to be the best unexpected surprise of my day – and another little moment that whispered in my ear, “Keep going, Mommy.”

When Brayden was diagnosed, we expected many things that never came true. We expected to have a better support system, we expected insurance would cover therapy, we expected that people would be accepting of our son. But when our support system crumbled, insurance wouldn’t pay, and people started judging our son and us – other, more positive things, have filled the damaged parts of us. We never expected the support and kindness of so many strangers. We never expected so many people to reach out to us the way they have – and fill our lives with hope again. And we never expected people to be willing to give up time, money, thoughts, and prayers – all for our little boy.

So while we now are learning to let go of expectations – it is these positive unexpected things – that make me still have faith in the world (as cliche as that sounds), and push me to keep going for Brayden every day.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,106 other followers

%d bloggers like this: