What is Autism
The medical definition of autism focuses on difficulties in three areas: social interaction, communication and imagination. These are referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’.
But defining autism merely in relation to these impairments fails to reflect a huge body of research and clinical experience indicating that many children on the autistic spectrum also have related health issues. These problems are often connected to the gut and immune system.
Unfortunately, most mainstream physicians diagnosing autism lack a robust approach to treating it. Parents are not given the breadth of information they need in order to improve their child’s life.
Many of these physicians have been trained to accept that the causes of autism spectrum disorders are entirely genetic. Government-funded research has for years primarily focused on genetic links with autism, and this has yielded little to improve our children’s lives. Meanwhile, research conducted around the world confirming the impact of health problems on children diagnosed with autism is not being acted upon, leaving our children untreated.
All too often parents find themselves assuming the role of detective, trying on their own to find the source of their child’s health problems and having to judge how best to help. They usually have to bear the cost of any interventions they try, and this expense can be crippling.
Autism Eye believes that, once diagnosed, children with autism should be routinely screened for the gastrointestinal, immunological and infection-related issues that appear to beset our children. Parents should not be left unaided to discover the need to deal with these issues, then have to spend huge amounts of time – even years – researching treatments, and bear all the costs of therapies by themselves.
We also believe that early, intensive educational intervention is vital, and that parents should not have to battle for this when it can make a significant improvement to their child’s life.
We say all this because, as parents of a child with autism, we know from our own experience that treating health-related issues and early educational intervention can have a very positive effect on an autistic child’s behaviour, cognitive development and general health and well-being.
Unfortunately, from the moment of diagnosis, we have found that parents are presented with negative messages about their child. They are left doubting that they have the ability to effect change. Families are not being made aware that they can improve their child’s condition. Many do not know what is available to make that happen.
The lack of information given to families about the range of interventions available only adds to the stress of raising a child with autism.
And stressful it certainly is. Parents’ lives are turned upside down, careers put permanently on hold, earnings curtailed, relationships put under strain. A study by Autism Northern Ireland found that nearly 70 per cent of parents report illness linked to caring for their child, with over 50 per cent of mothers taking medication because of stress.
Frustratingly, there is still no consensus among experts around the world on why our children have developed autism and why the number of people with the condition is rising so rapidly. Statistics from the US reveal that the prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 110 births, with almost one in 70 boys affected (US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009). In the UK, a study found that as many as one in 58 children may have a form of autism (Cambridge University, 2007).
Governments across the globe are failing to respond with any effect to this deluge of new autism cases hitting our societies. They also seem not to be aware that a greater availability of effective early medical and educational interventions may drastically reduce the impact of autism spectrum disorders on the economy, as well as improve the quality of life for people with ASD and their families.
The cost of autism to economies around the world has reached staggering proportions. In the UK, the expense has been estimated at £28.2 billion a year (London School of Economics, 2007). In the US, The Autism Society puts the annual cost of autism at $60 billion, and predicts it will grow to between $200 billion and $400 billion in ten years. It also points out that the cost of life-long care could be reduced by as much as two-thirds if governments took steps to improve earlier diagnosis and interventions.
We know how difficult it is to fight against a system where there is insufficient guidance and intervention, and at the same time do the best to raise your child. Autism Eye aims to empower parents to become more knowledgeable and increase their capacity to respond to, and represent, their child’s needs. We aim to help parents gain access to appropriate education and health support, enabling their child to develop with as much dignity and independence as possible.