EMILY LE COZ: The mystery of autism defies easy definitions

By EMILY LE COZ / NEMS Daily Journal

As the mother of a child with autism, I’m often asked to explain this mysterious condition. People are naturally curious about it, because it seems to affect so many of our children in rapidly growing numbers. And nobody knows why.
So I’m happy to share what knowledge I have of autism, even though I’m certainly no expert.
Autism touches an estimated one in 100 children today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up drastically from estimates just two decades ago, when the CDC placed the rate at roughly one in 10,000.
Its numbers have risen worldwide, and it affects children of all races and nationalities. Boys suffer four times more frequently than girls.
There is no known cause and no known cure for autism, making it a frustrating condition for parents who desperately want to know why: Why did this happen to my child? What might I have done to cause it? How can I make it go away?
Some blame vaccinations. I initially thought they might have triggered my son’s autism, because he became very ill after each shot. But I honestly don’t know anymore. Until someone can prove what does cause autism, I’ll cringe each time my son gets a booster shot to stay in school.
My own son, now 4, displayed signs of autism at about 18 months of age. He made little eye contact, had no language, didn’t wave or clap or imitate. He also had strange fixations – watching spinning objects or repeatedly opening and closing doors.
But looking back, I think he exhibited autistic traits much earlier. I just missed it, because I didn’t know what to look for.
Autism affects all children differently. There’s an expression among people familiar with it: “If you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism.”
Although all affected kids display similar symptoms – odd fixations, destructive meltdowns, social awkwardness, bizarre language or a complete lack of language – they all vary in expression or intensity.
Some children can overcome the most challenging deficits and eventually learn to talk, make friends and participate in regular activities. Others are incredibly severe, never learning to communicate or self-regulate; they exist in a perpetually isolated state.
Because there’s no medical cure, parents often venture alone into a confusing world of remedies. Some work, others don’t. Many are complete scams.
Our son responded well to a wheat-free, dairy-free diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and very little processed food or candy. This works for many children but not all.
Lucas also has benefited tremendously from speech therapy, occupational therapy and education-based therapy called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is the only proven method to help children with autism improve.
The nonprofit Autism Center of Tupelo offers ABA and other services for families and is the only agency of its kind in the state. As its chairman, I invite you to support us by attending our second annual fundraiser Saturday, Dec. 4 at the Goodlett Manor in downtown Tupelo. It’s called Comcast’s Tupelo Autism Gala, and tickets are $25 per person.
For more information, visit www.AutismCenterofTupelo.com.
Emily Le Coz covers government and politics for the Daily Journal. Contact her at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.