Asperger Syndrome is on the rise. At least that’s the implication of the latest research that finds autism is nearly twice as common as previously reported. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have autism — approximately one million children and teens. That’s up from 1 in 110 children in a 2006 study. Why the increase? The answer is inconclusive. It could be that better screening and diagnosis accounts for the findings. But there could also be overdiagnosis at play. What is clear, though, is that little progress has been made in the treatment for AS and autism and much more education and assistance is needed.
My frustration level runs high when it comes to new studies about the causes of autism. Researchers are quick to publish but often with findings that are sparse and less than helpful. The latest is a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry that asserts that environment might play as great a role in the roots of autism as does genetics. There are lots of studies that note a variety of issues might be contributing factors in autism: age of the mother, weight of the baby, infections, etc. None of those have been proven, of course. And in the latest study — conducted by Dr. Joachim Hallmayer and his team at Stanford University School of Medicine — it is reasonable to ask what types of environmental influences are at play. The study of identical and fraternal twins doesn’t say. Yet the study attributes a proportional role of environmental influences to genetic ones: 55% to 40%. More autism research, and money to fund that research, is needed. But more caution is also needed among those researchers trying to get at the roots of the developmental disorder. More than 1 in 100 children are thought to have autism. Let’s fund studies that are helpful to the millions of parents and parents-to-be who are searching for answers.
The headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer reads: “Students honor special-needs peers at prom.” It is heartwarming to read stories like this but it also reminds me that this kind of behavior tends to be the exception, not the norm, in society. Acceptance of people who look different or learn differently or whose personal challenges are different from our own does not come easily to many. But that acceptance is what our very humanness demands of us. “There but for the grace of God go I.”
It’s no longer “Unfinished Business” for one of the most engaging race teams in the history of the show. Undone by the samba and bikinis, Zev Glassenberg made TV history as the first contestant with Asperger Syndrome to take on the always grueling yet fantastically adventurous race around the world. The team challenge is replete with trials, chores, roadblocks and puzzles that test the mettle of the mightiest and bring some of the smartest to tears. Yet friends Justin Kanew and Zev cheerfully stuck out each leg of the race determined to make good on a second chance to win a million dollars — and avoid the mistakes of last season that torpedoed their earlier efforts. Zev deserves special recognition for shining a positive light on Asperger’s and helping the world grow in its understanding of it..
The debate over the safety of the MMR vaccine won’t likely be quieted by this latest news. The British medical journal BMJ today is calling the 1998 Lancet paper that implied a link between the MMR vaccine and autism “an elaborate fraud.” The mumps, measles and rubella vaccine has long been suspected by some to play a role in the childhood development of autism. But BMJ editor-in-chief Dr. Fiona Godlee says the “scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud” and that such “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.” Last year, Lancet retracted the study linking MMR to autism, citing faulty scientific research by Andrew Wakefield. BMJ is publishing a three-part investigative series this week to get to the heart of the scare.
I learned a new word today: coulrophobia. The abnormal or exaggerated fear of clowns, according to Wikipedia. This particularly phobia was the subject of a segment by Mo Rocca on CBS’ popular Sunday Morning show with Charles Osgood. But it made me think about all the other fears – rational or not – that we encounter in life. For young adults, the fear of not making one’s mark on the world ranks right up there. The fear of not finding the right mate, the right career, the right spiritual and social connections are all part of that larger fear. Psychologists say that underlying the fear of clowns is concern about what lies beyond the painted face. There are many unknowns as we enter new interpersonal relationships, new jobs and new social environs. If we let our phobias rule, paralysis can set in. But if we are willing to take a risk and put ourselves out there, we might find a great adventure beyond the painted surface.
Before you get behind the wheel of a car, it’s important to know that you’re up to the task. Headlines abound of drivers distracted by other passengers, cellphones, texting, and even shaving. Even a dog in the car can be a major distraction. But your mental state can affect your driving skills, too. I couldn’t find hard numbers, but AAA says driving while mad or upset is a factor in many accidents. Wait until you calm down before buckling that seat belt. The life you save might just be your own. Remember: Driving really is a privilege, not a right.
Thinking about signing up for courses at your local community college or pursuing a degree at a four-year university? If you have a learning disability, opportunities abound to get help before classes start and even once they’ve begun. Institutions of higher education are reaching out to students with disabilities like never before. And those students are benefiting from an array of colleges offering specialized support programs geared to their special needs. USA TODAY writes about Maryland’s Project Access Summer Institute, a program for high school students with learning disabilities at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. But there are programs across the country.