April is Autism Awareness Month – and it's quite possible you know someone whose life is impacted by autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 88 children is affected by an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder and autism.
Fortunately, many great local resources are available for families living with ASD. Between state-of-the-art treatment, extensive support networks and a growing acceptance from the general population, there are numerous reasons to be hopeful about the future for those dealing with autism.
Over the past few decades, several methods for treating autism have been studied, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) has proven to be one of the most effective, explains Courtney Bierman, President of Clinical Development at Bierman ABA Autism Center. ABA therapy is used to modify various forms of behavior, including language, socialization and daily living skills. Because ABA therapy has been so widely researched and studied, many insurance companies now cover this form of autism treatment.
However, Bierman says that the number one change in autism therapy is early diagnosis and intervention. Pediatricians are now looking for initial signs of autism, including speech or developmental delays. "Research shows that children who receive intensive early intervention services are likely to make more progress and have better long-term outcomes," says Bierman. She adds that the long-term benefits of early intervention can decrease the costs of lifetime care by over two-thirds.
"Now that autism is becoming more widely known and understood, this increase in awareness will also help with early detection so that individuals can receive effective treatment as early as possible, which shows better results," says Bierman.
One final trend of note is alternative therapy, which can include various multivitamins and supplements, and gluten and/or casein free diets. While not as much research has been done on these methods, many families report improved results with them.
Awareness for autism has grown significantly in recent years. Due to the number of children being diagnosed, it's likely that neurotypical kids have shared a classroom with a student with ASD. Dr. Breanne Hartley, Clinical Director at the Verbal Behavior Center for Autism, says that increased awareness has made the public more knowledgeable of autism, and therefore, more tolerant of the behaviors these individuals may exhibit. "From my perspective, autism is not perceived to be as scary as it was in the past," she says.
Popular culture has also embraced autism, with characters on television shows like Parenthood, The Big Bang Theory and Grey's Anatomy being affected by ASD. Even celebrities have "come out" as being on the spectrum, says Mary Roth, a Lead Ally with the Autism Society of Indiana. "Talented celebrities such as Susan Boyle and Dan Aykroyd have made the public, and people with autism, realize that a diagnosis of autism doesn't have to be debilitating, and it doesn't have to stop a person from pursuing their life's work," she says.
In addition to public support, a wide, tight-knit community of families, advocates and professionals in support of autism exists in our state. The Autism Society of Indiana (ASI) is a great place for families to start, says Roth. "We have Allies all over the state, including an Ally for Spanish-speaking families," she says. In addition, ASI offers family events, support services and even help dealing with insurance issues. "We are here to help all persons in Indiana affected by autism."
"The future for kids and families with autism is better than ever," says Roth. "Greater awareness given to autism means more attention and interventions for children – resulting in a more successful adult that child will become."