Saturday, April 01, 2006

Autism Awareness

During my first two years of medical school I worked as a therapist for children with autism, one little boy in particular. Winston was diagnosed with autism at 20 months and his mother was told that he would never speak or be a productive member of society. Winston's parents refused to accept that and embarked on a long and expensive journey with their son. He receives 40 hours each week of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy in addition to speech and occupational therapy. I began working with him as an ABA therapist immediately and watched him grow over a period of two years. Initially he did not speak, played inappropriately, made a few sounds like screams. He had some stereotypical behaviors of autism like playing with string, staring, walking in distinct patterns. During his therapy he first began signing, then making sounds, then forming words. He was able to ask for items and activities he wanted and complete tasks like matching and doing puzzles. He began playing with toys like cars appropriately. I have not been able to work with Winston during the final 2 years of school because of moving, but I've stayed in touch. He has made even more progress and is now speaking in sentences and reading. It is amazing how far he has come. Winston was in the newspaper last week because of his mom's activism. The state legislature is voting on a bill to require insurance companies to cover autism therapies, which can cost up to $100,000 a year. It may seem like a high cost, but it works and it helps these children become productive adults and prevents later institutionalization. I think it's worth it. For more information on autism, check out the Autism Society of America.


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