A few weeks ago, I bumped into a former classmate of mine. We happened to arrive around the same time at an indoor trampoline arena; I had Little Guy with me, and she was with her children - a little boy and girl.
I've only seen her a handful of times since graduation, mostly at holiday celebrations in our hometown. She didn't recognize me right away, but I decided to approach her. I introduced myself and we chatted for a moment. A short time later we found ourselves together in the same area of the lobby, filling out permission forms for our kids. As I was busy writing down information, she leaned over to me and said, "You know, I just came across your blog." She proceeded to tell me that her seven-year-old son was struggling with many issues similar to Little Guy and that they were in the process of having him tested for Asperger's Syndrome.
I was astounded. You see, she was the sixth person to approach me in the last month. These have been friends, neighbors, and acquaintances who, upon reading this blog, have shared their own struggles raising a child with sensory, anxiety, and/or autistic issues. In most of these cases, I had no idea these individuals were going through the same journey as I. While this revelation helped reaffirm my efforts in spreading awareness and information to others, it also proved what an epidemic autism and its related disorders are becoming.
When our oldest had his diagnosis given four and a half years ago, I spent many hours of research on the internet. At that time, it was estimated that 1 in 166 children would be diagnosed with some form of autism. Recent research now suggests that number is closer to 1 in 100 children.
What's happened? Why are the numbers increasing?
Part of it is due to greater awareness and better diagnostic procedures. However, I find it hard to believe these factors have solely been responsible for this dramatic increase. There are many theories out there which include diet, in-utero stress, exposure to a virus during a critical time of fetal development, immunizations, genetics - the list goes on and on. I'm a numbers type of person; to convince me of a statement's validity, it needs to be backed up by reliable data. And the frustrating fact is, none of these factors have been proven to cause autism. Studies do show that once a couple has one child diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder, their chances of having a second child with a similar condition jump to 1 in 7. This suggests a hereditary predisposition linked to autism - but the problem is, if there is a gene responsible for causing autism, it has yet to be discovered.
In the meantime, those of us who care for an autistic child will continue to do what we can to minimize disruptive behaviors while helping them make sense of an often confusing world. And while we cope with autism's effects, we look forward to the day when the cause - and cure - of this condition will be found.