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Hollywood helping raise awareness of autism, need for early intervention

Peoria Independent - 10/16/2017

ABC's new drama, "The Good Doctor," features a doctor with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Earlier this year, Net-flix released "Atypical," in which the main character is a teenager, also with ASD. These two new shows follow Sesame Street's introduction of Julia, a puppet with the disorder. All three deliver an important message ? with early intervention and the proper

educational environment, those with ASD can reach their full potential.

Hollywood's interest in ASD reflects current trends. One in 68 (about 1.5 percent) 8-year-old children have traits that place them on the autism spectrum. This is a 120 percent increase since 2000, when the federal agency began tracking the diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two years ago, the Autism Academy for Education and Development opened its third campus in the Valley. The new school is located here in Peoria and continues to grow.

Those with ASD have challenges with many, but not necessarily all the following: social interaction, behavior, motor functions and communications. These challenges can range from mild to severe. The severity dictates how well the person can adapt and overcome their challenges. This is why we say an ASD individual falls on the autism spectrum, and then qualify it by how well they function, i.e. high-functioning.

Early diagnosis is the key. Studies have found that the key to helping those with ASD is intervention when the brain is still developing. As the CDC explains, intervention is likely to be more effective and less costly when it is provided earlier in life rather than later.

Those on the autism spectrum have always been living, learning and working with all of us, and we probably never even realized it, especially those considered "high functioning." For example, actors Dan Aykroyd and Daryl Hannah both have publicly stated they are on the autism spectrum. While never acknowledged, there is wide speculation that some of the most famous leaders in the tech industry have Asperger Syndrome, a "high function" form that may include lack of eye contact, challenges with social cues, non-literal phrases and motor skills.

Despite not being diagnosed, many with ASD have gone on to great success. Unfortunately, many others struggle to reach their full potential. The reason has less to do with their own abilities, and more with the way they are treated both in school and in the workplace. At a minimum, they are not given the appropriate services and skills

needed to overcome their challenges. The worst being that they are ostracized, marginalized and bullied by the system and their peers.

Growing awareness is the key to having ASD identified sooner, and with ASD having its Hollywood moment, we can hope that early interventions will increase and more individuals with ASD will reach their full potential.

Editor's note: Shawn Davis is principal at The Autism Academy for Education and Development-Peoria campus. Founded in 2013, the Academy operates three schools across the metro-Phoenix area, all focused on supporting and empowering children and young adults on the autism spectrum.


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