1 in 250...Those were the statistics when I started life as an occupational therapist. Autism was something that we touched upon during school, but not much different than Cerebral Palsy or Down Syndrome. And now the numbers are reported at 1 in 50. I have been a pediatric OT treating in a variety of areas, homes, schools, clinic based, and in the community for over 10 years. However, the face of Autism has changed and intensified during these years. And based on these numbers, it should not be a surprise that Autism has actually shaped and developed me as a therapist and a person; just as it has our schools, daycares, and so many community programs.
I still remember the first child on my caseload that had the Autism diagnosis. As a new graduate, there was so much that intrigued me and I wanted to learn everything that I could about the child and the diagnosis. I was thirsting for the knowledge and ready to eat it up. And although there were many resources, the information often was still vague, and there was not the mass quantity that there is available today. Websites and organizations such as Autism Speaks, were not yet developed, as well as the knowledge and technology were definitely not where they are today.
In addition, I often reflect on the first parents I worked with trying to figure out why their child seemed "different". For one family, it was a child at almost 3 years old that showed no interest in opening up any present at Christmas, or knew the exact route Mom needed to take home from daycare; a daycare that never worked with a child on the spectrum. For another family, it was a daughter who had a toy room filled with toys, but never interacted to engage in play with any of them. For me, these were difficult situations, but growing ones. A major challenge then was that these parents never heard of the word Autism. They had no clue what characteristics would put their child on the spectrum. Autism then was not known like it was today. Therefore, it made the process a bit more difficult and definitely longer. Today, it appears that we almost all know someone who loves a child with Autism, as well as medical staff, teachers, and daycare workers are all being educated and informed in order to better understand and care for our children.
Today, with increased knowledge and learning about Autism, the signs and symptoms have changed and have become more specific. The Autism Speaks website (www.autismspeaks.org) list the "red flags" for the possibility of being at risk:
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