Autism now called an urgent public health concern


Jim Stoycheff, AEA 267 School Psychologist

Since 1970, the Autism Society of America has declared April as National Autism Awareness month, making this an ideal time to discuss what has become nearly a national epidemic. During the 1970’s the estimated incident rate of Autism was about 4.5 cases per 10,000 births. By the 1990’s the Autism community was noticing what they perceived as a significant rise in the numbers of children being diagnosed on the Autism spectrum.

This led to national concern and involvement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. These organizations have been tracking Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for over a decade through the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, which involves information gathered in 13 states. These studies have tracked an incident rate of 1 in 150 births in 2002 to the most recent data of 1 in 88 births, and the CDC is now calling the situation an urgent public health concern

To date there is no known cause for Autism or it’s rise in the incidence rate over recent decades.  The CDC is presently funding the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), which will provide a collaborative scientific study investigating the various possible risk factors of autism.  It will involve 5000 children ages 2 to 5 years of age, and their parents.

The American Association of Pediatrics now recommends that developmental surveillance be incorporated at every well-child preventive care visit.  Any concerns raised should then be addressed promptly with standardized developmental screening tests. In addition, screening tests should be administered regularly at the 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month visits.

Although Autism disorders are considered a life long condition where the intensity of symptoms can vary among individuals.  What has been evident for the past two decades is that early identification and intervention has been effective in reducing the severity of symptoms.

Treatments for Autism typically emphasize behavioral/educational interventions.  The focus of treatment involves language development, communication skills, social engagement/social skills, academic skills, adaptive living skills, and behavioral regulation skills.  Approaches developed are specialized and need to be employed by individuals with training in the use of these approaches.

Families having concerns about their child’s development should consult with their primary health care provider for guidance. They may also wish to contact their local school district and/or Area Education Agency about their concerns.  Together, the medical and educational communities may work together to assist families in obtaining resources to address their child’s individual needs.

Jim Stoycheff is a school psychologist with Area Education Agency 267. He is based out of Cedar Falls and can be reached at 319-268-7775. Area Education Agency 267 serves over 65,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.


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