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It’s no secret that for many on the autism spectrum, the development of linguistics and/or speech can be stunted. This is commonly regarded as one of the defining traits of “low-functioning autism,” where problems more severe than social difficulties can manifest themselves. I’m incredibly fortunate to have never had to deal with any of these particular issues, even excelling in the language department, but others are not so lucky. In my work here at CARD and PEPSA, I’ve done a lot of editing work for various teachers around the state, and one of the common professions I kept coming across were “speech-language pathologists” (SLPs). In truth, I had never heard of that term before, and so for this piece I decided to look more into them and their relationship to ASD. After doing some research, I’ve concluded that SLPs can be lifesavers when trying to help out low-functioning people with autism, particularly children.
So, what exactly is a speech-language pathologist? According to accredited SLPs Gail Richard and Donna Murray, “The speech-language pathologist’s most-familiar role involves helping someone produce speech – making sounds, speaking words, improving articulation (intelligibility) and so on. But speech-language pathologists do so much more. They also help with the language skill of putting words together to communicate ideas – either verbally or in reading and writing.” And, perhaps most importantly, they even help articulate social communication skills. Already you can begin to see why these SLPs are so sought after in the autism community. I’ve noticed through my editing work that having a background in speech-language pathology is a huge plus when it comes to being a special needs teacher, as are many who have partnered with PEPSA all throughout Florida.
Unfortunately, I’m no expert on the subject myself and as I’ve mentioned, I never attended a session with an SLP, so I can’t get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly they do or the methods they employ. There’s plenty of independent research you can do if you’re really interested. However, I would like to discuss one of the activities they utilize that I am familiar with, so if something like this interests you, perhaps consider contacting an SLP for your own child. If you’ve never heard of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), you’ve probably at least seen an example of it before. They’re those cute little picture charts that speech-impaired people often use. The Tampa Police Department even started using them recently to serve their ASD community members thanks to the efforts of CARD! SLPs use them to teach basic communication skills, and to develop an understanding of language before delving into the actual use of language. There’s so much more that these amazing people do, but it would take an extremely long time to get into it all.
There might not be any other profession that seems more geared towards serving individuals with autism than SLPs, and I can certainly appreciate the work they do. If this seems like something helpful, there are plenty of them in the Tampa area alone, they’re all just a google search away!
As I’ve discussed many times, the rate of autism and the manner in which we address it has changed drastically throughout the 20th century and up until today. But some may forget that every year on April 2nd, we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Sometimes as Americans we tend to forget that there’s a whole wide world out there (I say this as affectionately as possible). And as someone whose top interests include history, international affairs, different cultures, and just generally learning about the world, I was curious as to how other countries view autism, and how prevalent it is. In my research, I discovered some very interesting trends that I would like to share with you all.
One recurring theme is that autism seems to be most common, or at least more widely diagnosed, in developed nations such as Japan, the UK, the US, Sweden, Hong Kong, etc. The data I pulled from here is consistent with every other source I found on the subject. Western Europe, North America and East Asia seem to have the highest rates of autism in the world, and a lot of that is most likely similar to what we see in the US: better awareness by advocacy groups, a more accepting social climate, and improved methods of diagnosis. Japan always seems to come in at number 1, while the US ranks anywhere between 5 and 3. The other interesting thing I found was the complete lack of autism prevalence in places like Africa and the Middle East. These areas are generally more poverty-stricken and less accepting to people’s differences, so it comes as little surprise that autism is not focused on in these places.
Speaking of, how do some other cultures view autism? Well, from what I can tell, across most of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. it’s much the same as in the US, with improvements every year. However, in some places, there’s a more nuanced view of autism. For example, in South Korea, they have a phrase for autism: “chapae.” It is considered a “genetic mark of shame on the entire family, and a major obstacle to all of their children’s chances of finding suitable spouses,” and the stigma can become such a problem that Korean clinicians will intentionally misdiagnose their patients as having something else entirely. That is astounding to me that something like that is going on in such an advanced nation. Even here in America we see a different take on ASD in the Hispanic communities. Even adjusted for socioeconomic factors, rates of autism are lower in the Hispanic demographic than any other in America. It’s theorized that traits of autism can affect one’s reproductive chances.
I find it so interesting how autism is viewed so differently around the world, and how culture shapes that view so intensely. Personally, I’m glad to have it here in the US, where people are widely accepting and there are so many great resources available.
- G. Sosso
The number we’ve all become accustomed to regarding the rate at which autism occurs is 1 in 68. The 1 in 68 figure held firm over the span of 4 years from 2010 to 2014. However, the latest report from the CDC (which comes out every two years and observes 8 year old children) shows a 15% increase in prevalence from 2014, and the figure has now moved up to 1 in 59. This, to me, is the most fascinating thing out of all the myriad of subjects I’ve researched regarding autism. What is going on exactly, and why does the amount of people being diagnosed with ASD continue to rise?
The answer almost certainly has to do with a heightened awareness to the condition and improvements in how we diagnose it. With that in mind, I imagine the 1 in 59 will shrink even further by the time I’ve graduated college and moved onto adulthood. However, there is one slight concern I have concerning the rapidly increasing number of diagnoses. As this article discusses, as we trend more towards diagnosing children at a younger age, we risk muddying the waters between genuine autism and other disabilities, or even standard neurodevelopmental setbacks. Once the autism label is applied, the consequences of that will stick with the individual for the rest of their lives.
The last thing I want is for anyone to receive an incorrect diagnosis. Obviously, I’m not a practicing psychologist, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to diagnose someone as being on the spectrum, unless they were severely low-functioning. I don’t doubt the ability or credibility of any professional, but I worry we’re becoming somewhat trigger happy with the ASD label. It simply does not seem right to me from a skeptical viewpoint for such rapid changes in such a short time as we see here. Especially considering that autism is not a transmittable disease like the common cold. I couldn’t be happier that preventative measures are better now than ever regarding ASD, but we need to be careful that we don’t start assuming that 1 in 2 or 3 have it.
From what I’ve read, it seems like the 1 in 59 will not be here to stay for very long. As the criteria for diagnosis broadens, and the amount of parents checking their children for ASD grows along with general awareness, I predict that by 2020 we’ll see it somewhere in the ballpark of 1 in 52 or 53. No matter what the prevalence truly is, groups like CARD will always be out there to support them and provide them with any help they need!