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Conference sheds light on autism
May 30, 2011
by Jenni Sebora

I recently attended the annual state autism conference in Minneapolis and a conference in St. Cloud on practical strategies for working with students with pervasive developmental disorders, which includes Asperger’s Syndrome (capitalized because it is named after the physician, Hans Asperger, who first identified the syndrome), and autism.

The latter conference’s instructor was Dr. Lori Ernsperger, who has more than 25 years of experience working in schools as a teacher, administrator, behavioral consultant, and college professor. She has written several books on the area of autism.

Ernsperger put on one of the best conferences I have been to. She not only was an expert in the area, but provided many strategies that could immediately be implemented to maximize learning of students on the autism spectrum, as well as many other students.

According to the Autism Society of America and the Center for Disease Control, one in 100 children in America have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the prevalence rate is higher among girls than boys.

Why the number is on the rise is unclear. Is there an increasing rate of children with autism, or is our ability to diagnose at the center of the increase? It wasn’t until 1980 that autism was recognized as a disability by the medical groups.

In 1990, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognized it in the school setting and added it to disability areas.

In 1950, when Temple Grandin was diagnosed with it (at the age of about 3), her parents were told she should be institutionalized. When Temple was 2, doctors told her mother that Temple was brain damaged. Temple’s mother refused to follow the doctor’s suggestion. Temple went on to earn a doctorate degree in animal science and is a nationally recognized individual with high-functioning autism.

She has written seven books. Her books are about living with autism, as well as animal science. I would strongly recommend reading one of her books. Her 1996 book, “Emergence: Labeled Autistic” tells about her experience with autism. “The Way I See it,” is another fantastic book that helps one understand what it is like to live with autism from her perspective.

The movie “Temple Grandin” about her life, is a powerful movie and has won several awards.

Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), which includes autism, is characterized by impairments in several areas of development – social interactions skills, communication skills, or the presence of restricted, repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.

A person with Asperger’s Syndrome has no real significant delay in language or cognitive development. It is like autism, but with normal language development.

A person with PDD may have difficulty with pretend play, social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors or interests, and as Temple does, sensory issues.

Temple Grandin has said that she really has no interest in socializing for the sake of socializing, but does enjoy communication when it is focused on animal safety, animal handling, and such topics. Many people with autism are very visual learners and like routine and prediction.

According to PubMed Health, autism is a physical condition linked to abnormal biology and chemistry in the brain. The exact causes of these abnormalities remain unknown but is actively being researched. There are probably a combination of factors that lead to autism. Genetic factors may play a role. Identical twins are much more likely than fraternal twins or siblings to have autism.

And, of course, we have heard of other possible causes that have been in the news frequently, namely that of vaccines. There is no scientific data to back this up. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine agree that no vaccine or component of a vaccine is responsible for the number of children who are being diagnosed with autism.