Special Report: Our Kids & Autism

By: Lanetra Bennett
May 7, 2013

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that at least one million children in the United States have autism.

The CDC's estimate puts the prevalence of autism from about 1 in 88 to about 1 in 50 in just one year.

In our special report, Eyewitness News Reporter Lanetra Bennett
met one local family who's lived that statistic for the past three years.

Four-year-old A.J. was Laura and Adam Roberts' first child. Like many parents, they say they didn't have a clue.

So, even when they noticed delays in A.J.'s development as a baby, they dismissed it by saying, 'everyone's different.'

Mrs. Roberts says, "We weren't concerned with the not making sounds because everybody says boys talk later. Your brother didn't talk until he was three. A.J. will be fine, it's fine. It's a good thing we didn't listen."

When A.J. was a year old, the Roberts found out he had autism.

A new government survey says 1 in 50 U.S. schoolchildren has the spectrum disorder.

Mrs. Roberts says, "It seems about right. A.J. was in his Sunday School class last year with 12 kids and four of them are on the spectrum. That's just a random people that go to the same church. So, yeah, there are a lot of kids out there."

Back in 2002, The Centers for Disease Control said autism affected about 1 in 150 children. By 2012, it increased to 1 in 88.

The latest estimate is a 300 percent increase in 11 years.

Chrystin Bullock, the C.E.O. of the Florida Autism Center, says, "I don't think that in the past 12 months we've seen an increase from 1 in 88 to 1 in 50. It's different literature that looked at it from a different way."

The new statistic comes from a phone survey of parents. Less than 25 percent responded. Therefore, experts say it's likely that those with autistic kids were more interested than others in participating in such a poll.

Some question if the numbers reflect a real increase in autism or if those who may have fallen through the cracks before, are now being diagnosed.

Either way, Bullock says, "It's good research and it shows us something about autism and its growth. Awareness plays a major factor in getting that diagnosis overall. Treatment that happens early is far more effective than treatment that happens late."

It was a questionnaire that Laura and Adam Roberts answered from their pediatrician's office that first led them to have one-year old A.J. tested for autism. The check list asked, is your child making sounds? Is he playing appropriately with toys? Does he have good eye contact? Does he point to objects?"

"He didn't do any of those things." Mrs. Roberts says.

Mr. Roberts says, "Despite all the tons of toys we had purchased for him, lights and sounds and all these other things. His favorite toy was a bottle of sunscreen, and he loved to spin bowls on the kitchen floor."

The Roberts say coming to the Florida Autism Center in Tallahassee has helped A.J. progress tremendously over his past few years.

Mr. Roberts says, "If God were to come down today and say that we could hit a reset button and make him not be on the spectrum, we wouldn't do it. We love him exactly the way his is and we wouldn't change a thing about it."

Scientists continue to struggle to determine the root cause of autism.

If you'd like more information on signs to look for or treatments for the disorder, go to http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm. More on the new survey can be found at http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/national-survey-pegs-autism-prevalence-1-50-school-age-children.

To contact the Florida Autism Center, visit http://www.floridaautismcenter.info/.


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