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Autism event pegged to U.N. draws story of perseverance

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 1:46 PM EDT, Fri September 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Autism is defined as one group of developmental problems within autism spectrum disorders
  • It's not clear what causes the disorder and there is no known cure
  • Autism is more often found in boys and carries symptoms that impair speech

New York (CNN) -- A milestone for 16-year-old Jaden Lake, who has autism, is sometimes as basic as a kiss.

He's the son of Canadian Parliament member Mike Lake, who traveled to New York this week in the shadow of the United Nations General Assembly to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorders, believed to affect roughly 1 in 88 children in the United States.

Lake and his wife, Debi, say it's often the small victories that count most when raising the eldest of their two children.

"When he was 11, I remember my wife phoning me and saying, 'Jaden just kissed me for the first time,'" Lake said.

The revelation came when Debi had been teaching their son to blow, using a straw she placed in his mouth.

"She noticed that when she pulled it out," a kissing sound sprung from his puckered lips, he said.

"She used that to teach him how to kiss."

Autism is defined as one group of developmental problems within autism spectrum disorders, which surface in early childhood and come with varying degrees of severity, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It's not clear what causes the disorder and there is no known cure. And though its overall prevalence has been on the rise, it's also unclear whether that increase is a result of better detection or an increase in cases, or both.

Mike Lake and his son Jaden.
Mike Lake and his son Jaden.

Autism is more often found in boys, and carries symptoms that impair speech and a child's ability to interact and communicate with others.

Jaden, however, seems to find a way.

Though unable to speak, he communicates with other nonverbal methods, while also cooking and working at a local library where he scans books and sorts them into piles.

"All is not lost," said his father, referring to his son's developmental disorder and the ways Jaden has been able to persevere in spite of it.

The Canadian lawmaker and others advocate getting children screened early in order to get treatment and more quickly identify ways to help them adapt.

"We certainly face lots of challenges," Lake said. "Coming out to an event like this is important to raise awareness about what some of those challenges are."

Thursday's meeting, dubbed the fifth annual "World Focus on Autism" event, was sponsored by a research and advocacy group called Autism Speaks, which estimates that about 1% of the world's population -- or some 70 million people -- is affected by the disorder.

Gathering at New York's landmark Roosevelt House on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the meeting drew a collection of global figures, including the prime minister and president of Bangladesh and Panama, respectively, as well as the spouses of leaders from more than 15 countries, who are in town for the annual U.N. session.

"Some countries like mine, we didn't know anything about autism and how it is affecting the children of the world," said Marta Linares de Martinelli, the first lady of Panama.

Meanwhile, Shiekh Hasina¬ł Bangladesh's prime minister, is soon expected to formally introduced a U.N. resolution that would call for greater international involvement in recognizing autism as a global public health crisis.

"We urge you to support, and raise awareness around the new U.N. resolution," she said.

Yoo Soon-taek, the wife of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, delivered opening remarks at the forum, adding that "our collective focus on autism is strong and is growing stronger."

With autism, no longer invisible

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