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Family's six children show various degrees of autism

Family's six children show various degrees of autism



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Paul Nelson reportingThe story of a Utah family is getting national attention from ABC news and people magazine. They're shedding new light on the different degrees of autism and showing some of the differences between autism and Asperger's Disorder.

If you ever had a question about autism, you could ask the Kirton family. They have six kids, and all of them have some form of the disorder. As you can imagine, it's been frustrating for parents John and Robin.

"We just did not know what was going on. We thought, ‘Why are these children so wild?'" John said.

Mary, the youngest, has Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified, the mildest form of autism. Two other Kirton children have classic autism, and it's especially noticeable in 6-year-old Sarah.

John explains, "Most of her levels of where she should be, she's right around anywhere from a 12-month-old to a 24-month-old child. She's six."

The three oldest have what's called Asperger's Disorder, which is less severe. Even though 14-year-old Bobby can maintain straight A's, he has trouble making close friends. "He does not know how to carry a conversation that is better than one-sided," John says.

University of Utah Assistant Psychiatry Professor Judith Miller says, "People with Asperger's Syndrome and autism both have difficulties with interacting with other people and some communication."

She says when kids with Asperger's are young, they may seem advanced in certain ways. They might speak early or learn their letters before other kids. Later in life, they could have trouble developing social skills. Plus, they may become fixated on one thing. For instance, let's say one kid focuses on dinosaurs.

"He learns about dinosaurs, he knows all the names of all the dinosaurs and all their habitats and a lot of facts about dinosaurs, and he wants to talk about dinosaurs all the time. He doesn't talk about other things. He just wants to talk about dinosaurs," Miller said.

She says kids with Asperger's can grow into successful adults.

Miller says, "There have been a growing number of adults who read about Asperger's Syndrome and think, ‘Hey that sounds exactly like what I struggled with when I was a kid.'"

Miller says it's harder to tell if a disorder will be autism or Asperger's when a patient is in the toddler years.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com

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