Dr. Rebecca Landa Talks Autism

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  • Minority toddlers with autism are more delayed than their white counterparts.

    The biggest increases in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have been found among black and Hispanic children and Dr. Rebecca Landa is bringing greater awareness of the disorder in recognition of National Autism Awareness Month.

    Dr. Landa believes more can be done at an earlier age to identify autism, and her research continues as she works with even younger children to develop interventions for the earliest possible age.

    “We found the toddlers in the minority group were significantly further behind than the non-minority group in development of language and motor skills and showed more severe autism symptoms in their communication abilities,” says Landa, whose study included children and parents of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. “It’s really troubling when we look at these data alongside diagnosis statistics because they suggest that children in need of early detection and intervention are not getting it.”

    Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of neurological and developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 88 children have been identified with an ASD. With 1 in 54 boys identified, the largest increases were found among African-American and Hispanic children.

    But autism is not necessarily a sentence to an unproductive life.

    Because of greater public awareness, as well as early diagnosis of autism, which has led to earlier and better treatment, more ASD children are growing up to find success in school and work, and increasing number of students are being prepared for and admitted to college.

    At least a dozen colleges and universities in the U.S. have programs to help high performing ASD students to get acclimated to the challenges of higher education.

    About Dr. Landa

    Dr. Landa obtained her master’s degree at the Pennsylvania State University and her doctorate at the University of Washington. She completed post-doctoral training in psychiatric genetics at Johns Hopkins University. She is the recipient of the National Institutes of Mental Health(NIMH) Shannon Award for excellent and innovative research, as well as the Rita Rudel Prize for Developmental Neuropsychology.

    Dr. Landa directs the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute, which offers a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to serving children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. The center combines educational, clinical, diagnostic, outpatient and outreach programs to create treatment that is tailored to the particular needs of individual children and their families.

    My son has autism but he’s not autistic. He’s 17 and plays football.
    Terrific! This shows that every child should be given the chance and encouragement to be all he or she can be!

    Do you believe that autism is partly caused by foods with enhanced chemicals?
    Researchers are studying how environmental exposures interact with genetics to cause autism. I have not heard about this cause but will keep my eye open on the topic.

    Autism treatments are very expensive so money may decide what level of help you get.
    There is a legal obligation for state and local intervention and education programs to provide intervention to children with developmental delays. You may need to get an advocate or social worker to help you get treatments your child needs.

    My daughter is autustic. Tell parents to get your kids checked early! My girl wants to know can she have autistic kids?
    YES! Tell your doctor if you have concerns. If your doctor says all is well, but you don’t think so, keep seeking help. Your daughter may be at increased risk for having a child with autism. She can see a genetic counselor to help find out.

    Do children with autism have any problems playing sports or learning instruments?
    Yes. Most children with autism have motor impairments, and therefore have problems learning to be good at sports and playing instruments.

    Will there ever be a cure? My son struggles every day.
    We expect that there will be a cure for some forms of autism one day.

    Should autistic children be mainstreamed?
    This depends on the child’s needs, and the school’s ability to provide good instruction in an inclusive setting.

    Is it passed on from generation to generation?
    Autism is heritable, but there are different genetic causes in different families. So in some cases, yes, it is passed on.

    I have a friend whose insurance stopped paying for her child’s behavior therapy, which is helping her child. Are there other resources out there?
    If the behavior is interfering at school, the school may need to help provide behavior intervention services. Also check with your local Autism Society of America chapter for resources.

    What about parents in denial? The kid has symptoms, but the parent doesn’t want her child “labeled.”
    Ask the parents questions about their child to help them see how their child differs from other kids. And give them the Autism Speaks website so they can get good information. Intervention helps kids!

    What is autism?
    Autism spectrum disorders (what autism is now called) affect social, communication, and behavioral development. Some kids are more severely affected than others. Kids with autism have trouble connecting socially with others. They may have unusual eye contact, decreased range of facial expressions, infrequent attempts to get engaged socially with others, and trouble taking others’ perspectives. There’s lots more to say. Look up autism online for more.

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