Autism Awareness Month Program

April is Autism Awareness Month. Today, it is estimated that one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. While there are many debates about what causes autism, there are also new therapies showing promise for those who have the disorder.

Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital would like to recognize Autism Awareness Month by providing a free presentation to the community, “Autism: Recognizing the Individuals Around You,” on Tuesday, April 12, from 5:30 - 7 p.m. in the Trumley Education Center.

Please join HGB Speech Therapist Mary Talarico and Kristan Buege-Miller, board member of the Mid-Michigan Autism Association and parent of an autistic child, as together they discuss the misunderstood diagnosis of autism.

This presentation will help with learning to identify and respond to individuals with this condition. Tallarico and Miller will cover the current statistics, various treatment options and safety precautions for children with autism. Parents will also be educated on how to register their child with their local 911-responder unit.

Hayes Green Beach Memorial Hospital’s Rehabilitation Department has seen a more than 600 percent growth in its speech therapy services in the last two years partially due to an increase in referrals of autistic patients. The hospital has a certified speech pathologist on staff that specializes in autistic treatments. 

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Even with no known cause or cure for autism, it is treatable and an increased awareness can help families cope with the disorder.

Talarico joined the rehab department in 2008, bringing specialized speech therapy and social skills programs not commonly found in the area. With Talarico's expertise, HGB offers individualized speech therapy sessions to fit the needs of participants and help them lead healthy and fulfilled lives. Talarico also offers group therapies for those who function well in that setting.

When looking at autism statistics, studies suggest boys are more likely than girls to develop the disorder, with current U.S. estimates at one out of 70 boys. With approximately 1.5 million individuals nationwide and tens of millions worldwide affected by autism, government statistics suggest the prevalence rate is increasing 10-17 percent annually. 

Why the increase? Although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are often cited as possible reasons, there are no established explanations. A cure is also unknown. The best scientific evidence available today when determining a cause points toward a potential combination of factors. From multiple genetic components that may trigger autism on their own to the possibility of these components combined with undetermined environmental factors, many questions still remain. 
Children do not "outgrow" autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. According to the National Institute of Child’s Health and Human Services, behaviors that signal further evaluation are: 
•    Does not babble or coo by 12 months
•    Does not gesture (point, wave, grasp) by 13 months
•    Does not use single words by 16 months
•    Does not say two-word phrases on his/her own by 24 months
•    Has any loss of language or social skills at any age

When a child is diagnosed, many programs are available and designed to assist the child and his/her family. Treatments can range from speech therapy and social skills sessions to more specialized programs such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). 

“Speech therapy has become a necessary and vital part of the treatment process for people with autism,” states Talarico. “This actually may surprise people because when they think of autism, they think of individuals who have no verbal form of communication. Speech therapy is more than just simply teaching a child to correctly pronounce words. In fact, a speech therapist working with an autistic child or adult may work on a wide range of skills including conversation and concept skills, non-verbal communication and speech pragmatics.”  

Other specialized speech therapies can include treating deficits involving speech and language, cognitive-linguistic function, memory, and swallowing. At HGB, Talarico can provide speech therapy sessions for infants, children and adolescents with autism and also offers social skills group training. Designed to assist children and adolescents to be successful in their interactions with peers, family and others, social skills training is another highly effective treatment.

To learn more about autism and other speech therapy programs available at Hayes Green Beach, call 517-543-9575.