Autism affects countless Alaskans each day. Not only the children born with the disability, but also their families, communities and schools.
About one percent of all babies born in Alaska each year—that’s one out of every 100—will develop an autism spectrum disorder.
About one percent of all babies born in Alaska each year—that’s one out of every 100—will develop an autism spectrum disorder. That’s according to the Center for Disease Control estimates.
That means that out of about 11,000 Alaskans who will be born this year, 110 of them will be diagnosed with an autism disorder by the age of eight.
That sad statistic comes from the state’s website which says that more than 600 children were receiving services related to autism diagnosis in Alaska schools.
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that vary from person to person and range from mild to significant. The disorders can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges for affected children and adults.
It’s likely that you know someone who is autistic or who has an autistic child in their home. My sister has an autistic teenager, and she and her husband work hard to help him to learn and grow into the best adult he can be.
One of the bills that the governor recently signed into law will allow the new Comprehensive Autism Early Diagnosis and Treatment Task Force to make recommendations to help Alaskans with autism.
The task force was actually established last year for a one-year analysis and information gathering period so that it could make recommendations to the Alaska Legislature and state officials on how the state can best screen, diagnose and treat autism in Alaska.
Representative Dan Saddler is sponsor of House Bill 147 which extends the task force until January 2015.
Rep. Saddler’s comments
Autism can be tough to diagnose early on as sometime symptoms don’t develop until 24 months or later. Like any childhood diagnosis, the earlier it is caught the sooner therapy can begin and the better for the child and his or her family.
What to look for in your child:
Current research indicates that autism spectrum disorders are present at birth and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms can improve over time. Some children with autism disorders show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not develop until 24 months or later. In still others, the children may develop normally until 18 months or 24 months, and then they stop gaining new skills or they lose the skills they once had.
A person with an autism spectrum disorder may exhibit some or all of the following:
- Not respond to his or her name by 12 months old
- Not point at objects to show interest by 14 months old (such as pointing at an airplane flying overhead)
- Not play “pretend” games by 18 months old (such as pretend to feed a doll)
- Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about his or her own feelings
- Have delayed speech and/or language skills
- Repeat words or phrases over and over (often called “echolalia”)
- Give unrelated answers to questions
- Get upset by minor changes
- Have obsessive interests
- Flap hands, rock his or her body or spin in circles
- Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel
Parents also can monitor other key developmental milestones, which are listed on the CDC Web site.
Frequently Asked Questions about Autism
I am concerned that my child may not be developing normally. Who should I contact?
- Age 0 to 3:
Contact Alaska’s Early Intervention/Infant Learning Program
- Age 3 and older:
Contact your local school district and/or Head Start program
I am worried that I may not be able to afford the testing needed to find out if my child has autism, and the treatment needed following a diagnosis. What kind of financial resources are available to help?
- Contact the Alaska Division of Public Assistance to find out if you qualify for assistance through Denali KidCare or TEFRA (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act). For more information, call (907) 269-6529 or (888) 318-8890.
What support and resources are available in my area of Alaska?
- Information about these resources can be found at Alaska Resources.
What causes autism?
- Despite ongoing research, we do not know all of the causes of autism spectrum disorders. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes of different types of autism disorders. Environmental, biologic and genetic factors may make one child more likely to develop an autism disorder than another child.
- To find out more about current and credible autism research, visit the CDC Web site.
Do vaccines cause autism?
- Many studies have examined whether there is a relationship between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders. At this time, these studies continue to show that vaccines are not associated with autism disorders.
- The State of Alaska and CDC, however, know that some parents and others still have concerns about vaccinations. The CDC has joined the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and will work with the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) to address these concerns. The National Vaccine Advisory Committee makes recommendations regarding the National Vaccine Program. Communication between the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee and the National Vaccine Advisory Committee will allow each group to share skills and knowledge, improve coordination and promote better use of research resources on vaccine topics.
- For more information about vaccines and autism spectrum disorders, visit the CDC Web site.