Today is April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day, and it is Autism Awareness Month.
The month begins on the heels of news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Autism is on the rise. 1 in 68 children in the areas followed by the CDC are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder, up from 1 in 88 just a few years ago. In New Jersey, the numbers are far higher then the national average at 1 in 45.
You can view a summary of the latest CDC report here, but there are two points of the report that stood out to me:
- Content source: National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
PJ was diagnosed with Autism shortly after his second birthday. Pete and I had already utilized an evaluation with our state Early Intervention program, which allowed for PJ to have nearly six months of therapy under his belt by the time we received the official "Yup. It's Autism." I think about how lucky we were to be surrounded by supportive staff at our pediatrician office, who didn't say things like, "Well, he's a boy." or "It's not that he can't talk, he just won't."
I don't think that the people who say things like that say them out of malice or ignorance. Not at all, and I am sure there are some amazing physicians out there who just aren't alarmist, and might not recommend action when a milestone has just been missed. PJ was hitting all of his milestones late- rolling, walking, teething- so when he still only had a few words at 15 months, we were concerned but not alarmed. It was pure instinct that led us to follow-up again when nothing had changed by 17 months, and I am very, very thankful that our physicians trusted that instinct and gave us the correct information, allowing us to follow through with our concerns.
Autism is on the rise, and while it's certainly something to be concerned about, it shouldn't consume you. If someone was dumb enough to ask me for advice, I would say "Enjoy every minute with your baby. That baby is yours and wonderful and perfect. Don't obsess, but always trust your instincts, and try to work with people who will understand and respect those instincts, be that your spouse or pediatrician or pre-school teacher. You are, always, the people who knows your child best and the strongest and most qualified advocate for that child."
We are thankful for every second of therapy PJ has had. Seeing PJ grow and learn and stretch and love has been all the reassure that we need. It is never too late to start therapy- not by a long shot. But it is never too early, either, and it's up to us as parents to decide which road to take.
Every child develops at his or her own rate, and it is up to you to decide if that rate is the right one for your child. Watch carefully, listen to your heart, and in the meantime, love, love, love those babies. Emphasis on the latter.