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Explaining autism “1 in 50”

By Jeffrey Sendi, DO, New Oakland Medical Director

With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention data now reporting that a stunning 1 in 50 school-age children are being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, it brought to mind that it was this time last summer that New Oakland was helping to fund a documentary on autism.

The documentary titled “The Circle Never Ends,” was produced by Eli Zaret, who is New Oakland’s community liaison, and it aired on WXYZ, Channel 7 in September. New Oakland’s involvement was simply to do our part to bring greater awareness to this often disabling and tragically prevalent developmental disorder.

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disorders characterized by social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is no biological test for autism, nor do researchers know its cause, although a rapidly growing body of scientific research suggests it is a combination of genetic and outside or “environmental” factors.

Although autism diagnoses have climbed from 1 in 150 ten years ago to a mind-boggling 1 in 50 today, New Oakland isn’t so sure it means that there are more cases.

More so, it’s that doctors have gained knowledge and developed more sophisticated surveillance abilities to recognize milder, previously unrecognized forms, and have broadened the so-called Autism Spectrum to reflect them.

The documentary, which centered on The Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield, was nominated for four Michigan Emmy Awards at the June 15th ceremony at the Gem Theater in Detroit, making us all the more proud of our investment in the project.

At New Oakland, we’re well aware of the toll a child with autism takes on his or her family. In the documentary, a mom said that she feared taking her son anywhere in public, particularly at events where he’s required to sit still. She said that loud noises, like cheering at a ball game can cause him great distress, set him off, and ruin the evening for the entire family.

Along those lines, it’s been heart-warming to see the great steps various communities have taken to include children and even adults with autism. In New York, the Theater Development Fund’s accessibility programs have created autism friendly Broadway Shows, like Mary Poppins, where the autistic get to sit in beanbag chairs to mitigate shiftiness. They offer quiet areas in the lobby where they can take breaks, defuse and relax, and supply sensory tools like Kush balls.

We applaud efforts like this that seek to include large segments of the population that continue to suffer in isolation and often make family members feel ostracized and ashamed.  We also applaud “The Circle Never Ends” for its awards and recognition and are proud to have helped make it possible.

For anyone who missed its airing on Channel 7 last fall, click on the link and watch. We think you’ll find it emotionally stimulating and enlightening.