Autism Field Needs More Unity and Compassion

Friday, April 8, 2011

No one can argue that autism is getting more attention than it did 10 years ago. But considering that autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States, research and services for those who need them most struggle to keep up. Add to that all the mixed messages parents and families dealing with a diagnosis receive.

“Possible triggers include vaccines, toxins like home cleaning agents and bugs sprays, emissions from burning fossil fuels, the use of the drug Pitocin during labor, atypical brain development, an inadequate immune system, food allergies, inability to metabolize vitamins and minerals, imbalance of brain neurotransmitters, structural and functional abnormalities in the brain, and even claims of excessive television watching,” says Michelle Rowe, Ph.D., executive director of the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University and professor of health services. “This long list can send an otherwise intelligent and reasonable parent into a frenzy of confusion, fear, and mistrust.”

According to Rowe, what the field needs most are support and therapeutic services.

“As a biopsychologist who studies the role stress plays on one’s ability to cope, I urge more focus on therapeutic support and counseling services for families, and less finger-pointing,” she adds. “Coping with autism is one of the most stressful experiences parents can ever endure; the statistic that 80 percent of marriages break up in couples of children with autism further supports this.”

The field could also benefit from a stronger emphasis on respect, understanding and trust.

“Respectful discussions are an important part of the scientific process and the exchange of information,” says Rowe. “Health care providers must strive to listen carefully, respect the varying positions and provide supportive information, even if they do not always agree with parents. Parents need to understand that physicians, teachers and therapists are overwhelmed with trying to provide appropriate services for the volume of children impacted by this epidemic, and that most really care about their patients.”

Media Contact

Rowe can be reached by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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