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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Autism Puzzles

Susan Nielsen writes at The Oregonian:
Every few days, a new story pops up on Google News about a novel treatment for autism. Or an unexpected correlation, like living near a freeway. Or a new study that contradicts the last three autism studies.

This is maddening, even for people like me who lack a direct family connection to this increasingly common brain disorder. As 2011 draws near, the questions surrounding autism are still more plentiful than the answers -- and the field remains a study in money troubles, personal struggles and late-night Internet searches.

"It is quite the roller coaster," said Genevieve Athens, who has an autistic daughter and works as executive director of the Autism Society of Oregon. "When you have a kid with autism, you spend your whole life wondering what you should have done."

Despite the frustrations, reasons for optimism abound. Funding for autism research continues to grow. More scientists are pooling their expertise across specialties. In Oregon, a new statewide autism commission is intended to improve coordination among researchers, educators, therapists, parents and other players.

Also, more people in Oregon and nationally are framing autism as a long-term health challenge rather than a children's issue. This longer view provides an invaluable perspective for legislators and others who make funding decisions: The cost of living with autism, in health care and lost productivity, averages $3.2 million per person, according to medical estimates used by the CDC.

By comparison, early intervention -- even the intensive kind -- is a lot cheaper.