Monday, November 19, 2007
Autism: Finding Amanda
Do you know an autistic adult?
Since first meeting 27-year-old Amanda Baggs at her home in Vermont, I've asked just about everyone I know this very question. Surprisingly few people have met adults with autism, but an overwhelming majority knows a child living with the disorder.
That's no surprise, given that the latest CDC statistics say 1 in 150 children has autism. Boys alone have a 1 out of 94 chance of developing it. The rise may be due, at least in part, to a broader awareness and diagnostic criteria under autism spectrum disorder. But without a doubt, the numbers mean a whole new generation of children will be growing up with autism.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and our team have done many stories on autism over the years. Much of our reporting focuses on one approach - detect and treat as early as possible. Everything from behavioral therapy to autism's possible relation to vaccines to alternative therapies including surfing, auditory processing or even swimming with dolphins. That's because much of the research on autism is focused solely on identifying it and intervening while a child is still young. For most parents and doctors, helping an autistic child is about reducing their autistic symptoms and behaving more like a typical, non-autistic child.
But we wanted to find out what happens to those people who don't change, those who go on to live with their autism with all of its challenges and all of its joys. That's when we met Amanda Baggs. She's a young woman living without a guardian. She may not be able to speak or form words in the traditional sense, but she has a loud message for the world when it comes to autism and disabled people. From her small town in Vermont, she has made a name for herself on the Internet. We first profiled her in February. For hundreds of thousands of viewers, she redefined what it means to be autistic. Click here to watch Amanda Baggs, "In My Language" and here to read her responses to viewers.
Amanda Baggs has a strong message for parents of autistic children. She types as a computer voice reads her words: "Listen to other autistic people. In fact, expose autistic children to a wide variety of autistic adults. It may be the autistic adults who do have either typing or speech who are far more equipped to be able to communicate with other autistic people."
It's such a basic concept - introducing young autistic boys and girls to autistic men and women. But finding older autistic individuals is often the last thing on parents' minds when their son or daughter's autism is diagnosed. Jenny McCarthy, actress and bestselling author of "Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism," was one of them. She recently appeared on CNN's Larry King Live.
Jenny McCarthy and Larry King aren't the only ones who are trying to learn more about the process of raising a child with autism. As I reported from the "Autism National Committee" annual meeting last month, parents told me that there is an acceptance process with autism. Louisa Smith, mother of a 5-year-old, told me that she was still in the sad phase of her son's diagnosis. "I just want him to live a happy life. There are actually happy adults here living with autism. I didn't think that was possible when they first told me he was autistic."
Scientifically, so little is known about autism. We don't know the precise cause. There is no cure or proven prevention. On a human level, there is so much knowledge to be learned. Tonight, you'll meet Amanda Baggs and people like her in Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special report "Finding Amanda." She will be your guide into the world of living an autistic life to the fullest.
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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