Bayview Physicians Group

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April is Autism Awareness Month!

March 31st, 2015

By: Dr. Eric Madren

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social communication and behavior. It is considered a spectrum disorder because there is a wide degree of variability in functioning between individuals with autism. The symptoms of autism usually present in early childhood and typically persist throughout the lifespan.

Over the past few decades, autism has become increasingly common and it now represents a serious epidemic. The most recent estimated incidence of autism, based upon data collected by the Centers for Disease Control in 2010, is that 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. This represents a more than twofold increase in the incidence than was estimated just eight years earlier in 2002. Boys are about 5 times more likely to develop autism than girls, so the incidence of autism in boys is an astounding 1 in 42. Put another way, more than 2% of American boys have been diagnosed with autism.

The cause of autism remains unknown and it is likely that there is not one specific cause. The best working hypothesis appears to be that both genetic and environmental factors are involved. Autism is not a purely genetic disorder such as Down syndrome or sickle cell disease, however there is clearly a familial component. Younger siblings of children with autism are at a greater risk of developing autism than children who do not have a sibling with autism.

The good news is that autism is a condition which improves with treatment, especially when the treatment is intensive and begins at an early age. Early diagnosis is therefore essential in improving long-term outcomes for individuals with autism. Current recommendations are that ALL children should be screened for autism at their 18 month and 24 month well child visits. Usually this screening consists of a series of focused questions about their developmental progress and/or a specific screening tool questionnaire. Children who screen positive and are considered to be at risk for autism should be referred for further developmental evaluation.

It is very important to provide parents of children who are suspected to have autism with appropriate community support services. One excellent local resource is the Autism Society, Tidewater Virginia which holds regular meetings on both the Southside and the Peninsula. They also host a number of events to promote autism awareness including the upcoming 10th annual Autism Awareness 5K and ½ mile Family Fun Run. This event will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2015 at Mt. Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach. Registration information can be found at www.tidewaterasa.org.                                                                                                                                                        

Dr. Madren is a board-certified family physician who practices at Volvo Medical Associates in Chesapeake. He is also the parent of a child with autism. Since 2005, his practice has been heavily oriented toward the care of individuals with autism spectrum disorders and he has hundreds of active patients with autism in his practice. New patient appointments are available at (757) 548-0076.