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Coco Warner ReportingAccording to new numbers from the Center for Disease Control, autism is now the fastest growing developmental disorder. Nearly a million and a half Americans have been diagnosed with the brain disorder, which means chances are, you know someone affected by autism.
Even five years ago health officials estimated one in 500 people were autistic; now the CDC says it's one in 166. Experts attribute the increase to better diagnosis, but they still don't know what causes the disorder, which can make finding out your child is autistic all the more devastating.
Martha Henderson's morning starts like any young mother's. There's breakfast to prepare and children to get ready for school. But for Martha and her five-year old autistic son Sam there are also DVD boxes to stack.
Martha Henderson: “Every day there are changes. He holds whatever boxes he’s currently interested in.”
Sam's been taken with movie boxes since age one. At the time, Martha had no idea Sam was autistic. He just wouldn't talk and while he seemed overly preoccupied with his boxes, Martha assumed because he was affectionate he couldn't be autistic. He wasn't officially diagnosed until he was 3 1/2.
Martha Henderson: "At that point I thought I was the world's worst mother because I couldn't get him to listen. I couldn't get him to obey. I couldn't get him to talk. I couldn't get him to do anything, and it was really a hard time."
Pete Nicholas, Ph.D., Dir. of Pingree School: "A child who may not socially be as warm or as open, may be more aloof and stand-offish, language delays, major language delays."
Officials at Salt Lake City's Carmen B. Pingree School for Autistic Children can help parents with a diagnosis. But they can't explain why or how. Research has so far cleared childhood vaccines, but there could be other genetic and environmental factors.
And then, there's the question of how to treat it.
James McCracken, M.D./UCLA: "A stimulant in this case is being used to improve attention, concentration and to reduce the over-activity that many children of autism display. "
But for most autistic children medication isn't the answer-- patience and education is.
Pete Nicholas, Ph.D., Dir. of Pingree School: "If you break your leg you use a crutch and that helps you move around your environment to the best of your ability. These behavioral interventions will help a child and a family that has a child with autism to maximize the best of their ability."
Martha Henderson: "Sometimes people are very understanding and other times you just wish you could scream from the rooftops, he's autistic, he's trying, I'm trying, you know you're doing the best you can."
And for autistic children and their families sometimes trying means failing and then trying again. So you learn to celebrate the small stuff.
Martha Henderson: "He said his prayers for the first time last night all by himself, and it was really wonderful to hear him say that."