Posted 9:53 PM 2/26/2013 : How autism affects Southern Colorado
Autism is a disorder that affects more and more children each year and has gained increased attention..
There is no community in the United States unaffected by autism and Colorado Springs has a higher-than-average prevalence of the disorer. So, News 5 went looking for answers about the puzzling condition?
Rachel Winscott, Joannastacia Gage and Crissy Pines are three mothers raising autistic toddlers in Colorado Springs. Each decided to share their stories to raise awareness.
For al three mothers the intitial symptoms that led them to believe their toddlers might be suffering from some kind of disoder were fairly similar.
"Growing up he never talked, he didn't walk until he was 19-months old," Crissy Pines said of her son. "I always knew that there was something different."
Eventually the three mothers each reached out to a doctor or therapist to talk about why their child wasn't talking, playing with other children, walking or reaching other milestones typical in a child's development. Each of the experts they talked to eventually pointed them in the direction that led to the diagonosis of autism.
"I didn't know if I had done something wrong," explained Joannastacia Gage.
That reaction is typical according to local experts. It can never be easy for a parent to accept that their child has a condition that is irreversible.
"I was freaked out," described Rachel Winscott.
After the shock of their child being diagnosed with a disorder that medical science is still struggling to understand came the quest for treatment. All three mothers either serve or are married to someone who serves in the military. Their stories of trying to find the best treatment vary, but each had to struggle with constant visits to specialists.
"You'd wake up that morning and it was time to go, you didn't want to but you knew you had to because this is what is best, " explained Crissy Pines. "This is what is going to hopefully one day make your child a successful adult."
Each mother had to try and find out what autism is, a difficult task when nobody knows what causes the disorder. But, what autism does to children is known. The condition affects a person's ability to communicate, their motor functions and their ability to understand social rules and skills.
Eventually each of the mothers found their way to Colorado Springs, where there is an above average number of autistic children.
"Really what that's about is that we have a higher level of services than most places in the country," Dr. Matthew Brink explained.
Dr. Brink works with the Colorado Autism Center in Colorado Springs, just one of many such centers in Southern Colorado. He explained that the local area has become a destination for families with autistic children because there are a high number of resources available to deal with the disorder. Military families are largely responsible because they can apply to be reassigned to installations with more resources availble to deal with any problems their families are facing.
Because of the high level of resources for dealing with autism, Colorado Springs is at the forefront of the strategies for dealing with the disorder. Across the country and worldwide the treatment of choice is "early intervention," which means diagnosing autism and starting therapy at the earliest age possible.
"Early intervention is important because we know that the quicker we're able to interact with these children and get them on the right track their long term outcome is going to be much improved," Dr. Brink explained.
Early intervention is not just important to the families of autistic children. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that around $60-billion is spent in the United States dealing with autism. Furthermore, the CDC believes that cost could be cut by two-thirds if every child diagnosed with autism received early intervention.
"Not only is there a financial benefit to these families and to our community as a whole," Dr. Brink described. "We know that these children quite frankly get better."
Perhaps the most important thing to note about autism is that it should not be considered a handicap. Those affected by the disorder may act "weird" at times or struggle to understand some things the average person takes for granted. However, experts locally and nationwide agree they can be functioning members of society.
"I think that he will always have struggles but he'll have successes too," Crissy Pines said of her son.
Sometimes the condition can also lead to great achievments. Many notable figures in history, from Albert Einstein to Bill Gates, may have a form of autism.
"She is crazy smart ," said Rachel Winscott of her daughter. "I'm very much looking forward to the day when she gets to prove that to everybody."