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By Aloise Schmitt


AUTISM is for


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utism is a complex and increasingly common developmental disability that affects children and adults in all walks of life. Currently, an estimated one in 88 children are affected by autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the international organization Autism Speaks calls it “the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.”


Autism is often called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as its symptoms run the gamut from psychological, to physical, to social,


typically affecting no two people in exactly the same way. When your child is diagnosed with autism, finding the best way to meet his or her unique needs can be stressful and frightening. Fortunately, there are resources available on the First Coast that can help.


Diagnosis and Treatment Parents are often the first to recognize signs of autism, which can


include delays in language and speech, underdeveloped social skills, or atypical or extreme behavior. To officially diagnose autism, specialists may administer developmental tests, or simply observe a child’s behavior over time.


Because there is no test for autism, getting a positive diagnosis


can be a challenge. However, beginning interventions at an early age is extremely beneficial. “Research has shown that early and intense intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in children with autism,” says Dr. Jill Driest, a clinical child psychologist at Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics in Jacksonville. Such interventions include various therapies, such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA). “ABA is a set of procedures that are used to teach new skills and reduce problem behaviors,” Dr. Driest says. “Other therapies that are often helpful include speech and language, occupational or physical therapy.”


First Coast mom Jill Hill Fane began interventions for her son


Maxwell when her mother, a behavioral specialist, noticed him exhibiting signs of autism when he was 2 years old. It took time and consultations with three specialists to confirm Maxwell’s diagnosis, and Jill is glad she was proactive in seeking help for her son, now a happy, independent 17-year-old. “I always say early intervention is


48 | Family!


best, because…if I had not started early with my son, I don’t know where he would be now.”


Changes in diet can also be instrumental in treating autism. Dr.


Julie Buckley, author of Healing Our Autistic Children and a world- renowned autism specialist whose practice, Pediatric Partners, is based in Ponte Vedra, says switching to a healthy, gluten-free/casein- free diet changed everything for her 15-year-old daughter, Dani. “One of the single most important things a parent can do to help their child with autism is to be willing to undertake feeding them properly and feeding them well.”


Dani was 4 years old when she was diagnosed with autism and,


like many individuals with the disorder, developed both physical and psychological impediments as a result. “When we [changed her diet], we found that we had tremendous changes in the sensory issues, and we had real improvement in language [and] in the inflammatory bowel disease,” Dr. Buckley says. Optimizing children’s health allows their bodies to better heal from the many side effects of autism. “Te approach that we’ve used is to add back in nutrients [and] supplements,” she says. “Doing things that way, we’ve been able to avoid psychotropic medications, and…things that we associate with autism—the behaviors, the social problems, and the language and communication problems—have really improved very, very dramatically.”


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