Tag Archives: cause

Stroll for Epilepsy at the Dallas Zoo

5 Apr

Saturday, April 9, from 8 am to noon, come to the Dallas Zoo and walk for a good cause – to raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation of Texas.

For more information, or to register, click here.


Autism Awareness Month, Part I: What is Autism?

5 Apr

Eleven years ago this month, my daughter, Paige, was diagnosed with autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), the preferred medical term back then.  I’ll never forget the day at the Cook Children’s neurology office.  My mother had flown in from California for the appointment, which we’d waited six months to get.  My husband took off from work.  The grim-faced doctor made autism sound like a death sentence.  I cried so hard and so much it looked like I’d been to a funeral, even days afterward.

It felt like one, too.  What the doctor didn’t tell us—couldn’t have, of course—is that autism would become just another fact in our life, like Paige’s blue eyes or that I write for a living.  No one could have known that autism would define us in some ways—from the schools Paige would attend to our constant search for appropriate therapies and services—and not in others (we go places, have friends, live life!).

Along this journey, which I plan to discuss in detail during this month’s posts, I have been asked the most fundamental of questions countless times: what is autism?  Here is how Autism Speaks defines this condition that 1 in 110 American children will be diagnosed with this year.  (For more, visit www.autismspeaks.org.):

What is Autism?

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD).  The other pervasive developmental disorders are PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.  Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

How common is Autism?

Today, it is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.  An estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide are affected by autism.  Government statistics suggest the prevalence rate of autism is increasing 10-17 percent annually.

What causes Autism?

The simple answer is we don’t know.  The vast majority of cases of autism are idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.

The more complex answer is that just as there are different levels of severity and combinations of symptoms in autism, there are probably multiple causes.  The best scientific evidence available to us today points toward a potential for various combinations of factors causing autism – multiple genetic components that may cause autism on their own or possibly when combined with exposure to as yet undetermined environmental factors.  Timing of exposure during the child’s development (before, during or after birth) may also play a role in the development or final presentation of the disorder.

There is a growing interest among researchers about the role of the functions and regulation of the immune system in autism – both within the body and the brain.  Piecemeal evidence over the past 30 years suggests that autism may involve inflammation in the central nervous system.  There is also emerging evidence from animal studies that illustrates how the immune system can influence behaviors related to autism.  Autism Speaks is working to extend awareness and investigation of potential immunological issues to researchers outside the field of autism as well as those within the autism research community.

One Question NOT to Pop!

23 Nov

At a gathering of my in-laws a couple Thanksgivings ago, I was hit with my least favorite question: “What do you think causes autism?”

Then just last week, during a casual conversation while getting a jumpstart on my Christmas shopping, I mentioned to a clerk at a bookstore that my 14-year-old daughter has autism.  I added that Paige is doing great, particularly following a few key changes to her medications plus a new school.

As I watched the little pucker form between the woman’s eyes, I knew precisely what was coming.

“So,” she said.  “What do you think causes autism?”

In the decade since our daughter has been diagnosed with autism, I have heard more theories about the disorder’s origins than I care to count.  Everything from coal production and the fillings in my teeth to what I call The Big Brain Theory (some say the brains of children on the autism spectrum simply grew too fast).

Then there’s the old vaccine debate.  (You practically have to be family before I’ll confide how we handled the childhood vaccines for our 5-year-old son.)  Go on any open Internet forum centered around autism and vaccinations, and you’ll get a taste of “cyber-bullying.”  Parents on both side of the debate post the cruelest comments you have ever read!

So here’s my tip for a merrier holiday season: Don’t ask!  The mom does not know what causes autism.  No one knows.

Chances are, too, that most any mother would rather tell you about her child’s latest developmental milestone than engage in what amounts to scientific speculation.

I most certainly would!

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