There are about 17,000 kids being served with an autism label in Michigan's public schools. It is believed that there are many adults in the community mental health and prison systems that have autism but have not been diagnosed. Until they are diagnosed and offered supports that address these difficulties, our community will not be able to benefit from the contributions they might otherwise have made.
New diagnostic principles for autism are a bit different than previous diagnostic manuals. They focus on two areas.
1. A deficit in social communication and interaction. This can be seen in a child with such severely impaired communication that they have no language at all, to a very talkative child who is unable to read body language, develop and maintain relationships, or share emotions, theirs or others.
2. The other major symptom area is restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interest, and activities. This refers to many of the unusual body movements, speech patterns and ritualized behaviors we see in our kids. Examples include hand flapping, rocking, funny tone of voice, word repeating, or talking as if from a script rather than one's own thoughts. It also refers to the narrow interests, need for sameness, and extreme preoccupations with areas of special interest. This category also address the hyper or hypo-reactivity to sensory input, or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment. Many families are happy to see this peculiar area of sensory dysregulation added to the list of issues we need to address in order to help our kids. The temper tantrums, or melt downs as they are referred to by many families, are often triggered by painful sensory experiences in the bigger world. Between the unpredictability and discomfort in the big world, and the stigma of melt downs, it can make it very difficult for our families to spend time out in public. The irony is that it is only by being around typical people that our kids can learn the skills to succeed in the big world.
Find out more about autism and how it is affecting Michigan families at thee links to the right of this article.