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We are pleased to bring you the 17th edition of Fast Facts. This is a brief report on
local data that we believe you will find useful in both understanding and improving the
health of our community. Our goal is to keep it brief and instructive and to provide opportunities for all persons to positively impact the issue. Please feel free to forward to colleagues, board members, legislators and others in the community.
April is Autism Awareness Month and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 
recently released a report stating that more children in the United States have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than previously thought.  
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  The range of disorders include autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, which is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).  Complex titles that reflect a complex disease. ASD occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. 


The signs and symptoms of ASD can be subtle.  The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction that can even be noted in early infancy.  Social behaviors such as a lack of responsiveness and an abnormal focus on one item for long periods of time.  A child with ASD may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.  As they grow older, children with an ASD may fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people.  They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can't understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don't watch other people's faces for clues about appropriate behavior.  They may lack empathy.  


Physical behaviors may include repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging.  They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of "I" or "me."  Children with an ASD don't know how to play interactively with other children.  Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.  It is important to note that ASD varies widely in severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps.[i]


The cause of ASD remains uncertain, although experts believe that both genetics and environment play a role.  In fact, researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.  There is no evidence that parenting or immunizations play any role in autism.

ASD in not an uncommon disease.  According to the new CDC study, 1 in 68 children aged 8 years (or 14.7 per 1000) have ASD -- roughly 30% higher than previous estimates.  The data also revealed that ASD is almost 5 times more common among boys than girls and that white children are more likely to be identified as having ASD than are black or Hispanic children.[ii]   


It is important to diagnose ASD early as research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child's development.  Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills and include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others.[iii]


[ii] MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. Published online March 27, 2014.




Of course, the most significant impact is on the child and the family.  However, there are significant economic costs that can be reduced with early identification and intervention.  A recent study published in Pediatrics determined that ASD was associated with $3,020 higher health care costs and $14,061 higher aggregate non-health care costs, including $8,610 higher school costs.[i]      


Of note, a pilot program called the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), a comprehensive behavioral early intervention program that is appropriate for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as young as 12 months, was found to have both improved the children's IQ but also reduced the need for ASD therapies and special education services (and the costs) through the school years following their early intervention.[ii]



What You Can Do


 As a health care provider:    

As a parent:

As a funder or public official: 

  • Fund research to help identify risk factors and preventive measures.
  • Fund early education programs for children with ASD and other developmental delays.
  • Begin to develop long-term financial strategies to equip and support young and middle-aged adults with sufficiency limiting ASD.


    • Turnstone provides occupational, speech and aquatic therapy for individuals with disabilities, including those with ASD. There is also preschool and summer preschool programs, a swim lap club, and a monthly parent support group. For more information, visit or call (260) 483-2100.         


    • First Steps of North Central Indiana is a statewide program that offers early intervention services to infants and young children who are developmentally delayed or at-risk for delays. Visit or call (260) 207-5799.

    • Easter Seals ARC of Northeast Indiana provides a variety of programs and services for individuals of all abilities, including those with ASD. For more information, click here, visit or call (260) 456-4534.          

    • Indiana Resource Center for Autism serves as a state clearinghouse for information about ASD as well as services that can benefit Hoosier families and individuals. Visit or call 1-812-855-6508.

Fast Facts is a collaboration of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and
United Way 2-1-1 of Northeast Indiana
  Contact Deborah McMahan, MD or John Silcox
 c/o Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health