Early screening key to controlling autism

“Learn the signs and act early” are the themes of Autism Awareness Month declared  in a proclamation issued Wednesday by Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.

The Hawai‘i Maternal Childhood Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program joins other autism groups in Hawai‘i in promoting an awareness effort based on the theme.

Providing widespread information is necessary to educate parents, professionals and the general public about autism, its effects and the critical importance of early screening in childhood, states the proclamation issued by Carvalho to representatives of groups and agencies encompassing people with autism.

Autism is part of a complex group of neurodevelopmental disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs. The diagnosis of autism in individuals crosses all social, religious, economic and geographic boundaries.

Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other government agencies, autism in America is growing at a rate of 10 percent to 17 percent each year.

The Autism Society of America estimates the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.

In 1994, the State Department of Education had 71 children ages 6 through 21  with autism who were eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The total increased to 1,064 in 2010. In addition to these school-age children, the State of Hawai‘i had 234 children ages 3 to 5 years with autism who were eligible for special preschool programs in 2010.

There are another 165 children through age 3 with autism spectrum disorders in Hawai‘i who received Intensive Behavioral Support from the Department of Health, Early Intervention Section in fiscal year 2011.

The Education Department’s Special Education Division offers educational services to students with autism and works with the families and students to develop an individualized education plan.

Autism involves delays in and problems with social interaction, language and a range of emotional, cognitive, motor and sensory abilities that can range from mild impairments to severe disabilities.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates autism affects as many as one in 110 children, and their studies show that over the past 12 years, the prevalence of autism has increased by 289 percent.

There is no cure for autism, but early identification of developmental concerns allow parents to seek intervention during the crucial period of early development, the proclamation states.

The state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening for autism spectrum disorders at 18 months, 24 months and 36 months.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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