The Family: Existing Support Infrastructure for Autism

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Article first published as The Family: Existing Support Infrastructure for Autism on Technorati.

Autism as a diagnosis seems to be on the rise. Estimates have changed from one in 150 children in the United States, to now one in 110. That means that it's an epidemic, right? We are seeing more diagnoses, an epidemic, right? This very thought has paralyzed government, schools, and even health insurance companies, as the cost of autism therapies can be staggering.

Not true, according to the study by several UK universities, as reported by Medpage Today. It seems that there are just as many adults today with autism are there are children: about one percent, or close to one in one hundred. But how? How has this number eluded so many researchers for so many years? Quite frankly, it's because no one thought to ask.

You see, autism is still a new concept that defines a set of criteria. Right now, it's applied to a set of behaviors that were defined by Leo Kanner. But these behaviors have existed for generations. They have been documented as early as 1566, and have mystified people for generations. It is only now, now that psychology has grown out of the realm of mesmerizers and in the direction of science, that we can start to understand. Now we know about the spectrum, how wide it is, and what behaviors to look for in the diagnosis.

Autism is common, and has been for generations, a fact we can find reassurance in. Relief in knowing that instances are not increasing, just that it is being more noticed. It also lets us know that an infrastructure can be put in place to help those with autism learn to manage their own lives, while also providing options for those that cannot manage on their own.

Ideally, this would mean providing therapies, learning sessions, etc. that can all become very expensive. When you look at the costs of occupational therapy, sensory therapy, speech therapy, and special needs teachers, it becomes staggering. This is exactly the sort of cost our politicians, city administrators, and school officials see when they are faced with the daunting task of providing services for those on the spectrum.

But they don't see the infrastructure that already exists, or at least should exist, and that is the family. Parents have always been there for their children. Some go a little overboard, some may not be there at all, but in general most parents are willing to do what they can for their child. This existing infrastructure is powerful, because with the right training, parents can be just as effective as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and the like. Once they know what to do, they are out there doing it.

There is a lot of good work being done to identifying causes of autism, and perhaps one day there will be treatments that can make it more manageable for those who need it. But for right now, there are children and adults that need us to focus on helping them in their present situation. Give the family the power, and marvelous things can happen.