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Event offers resources for parents, teachers to help autistic children

April 29, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- Lynne Phillips said her son seemed fine until he was about 3 years old, then "that change" took place.

The boy started playing inappropriately with toys, he would not respond when his name was called and he stopped talking, said Phillips, who attended Thursday's Autism Resource Fair at the Potomac Center on Marshall Street.

Phillips' son is part of a growing number of children being diagnosed with autism.

The autism spectrum also includes Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

At the beginning of the year, one in 150 children were being diagnosed with some form of autism, said Phillips, who volunteers for Autism Speaks, an organization that funds autism research.

Now, one in 110 children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, Phillips and other autism experts said at the fair.

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Phillips said she thinks her son's disorder was caused by vaccinations, one of the common theories about the cause of autism.

Phillips said when she was young, children received six to seven shots, but now kids get about 40 shots.

Phillips said it is vital that the cause of autism be identified.

"If not, we're going to have a society full of these kids," Phillips said.

Children with autism spectrum disorders display a variety of behaviors, from rocking and hand-flapping motions to the inability to speak to less-severe symptoms, said Brenda Thiam, autism specialist for Washington County Public Schools.

About 200 children in Washington County Public Schools have been diagnosed with some form of autism, Thiam said.

The fair was organized by officials at the Family Resource Center, which assists families of children and young adults with special needs. The center is sponsored by Washington County Public Schools and the Maryland Department of Education.

The fair offered parents and teachers resources to help children with autism spectrum disorders, and there were activities for autistic children. Autistic children exhibit behaviors like ego-centered personalities and games at the fair were designed to help them learn turn-taking skills, Thiam said.

Vendor displays, demonstrations and student panel discussions were offered to about 24 families who attended the fair, organizers said.

Joe Dugan walked around at the fair, holding his 2-1/2 year old son, who was diagnosed with autism in January. Dugan said his son has been receiving therapy at Robinwood Medical Center and his problems with eye control have improved.

"It's a big mystery," Dugan said of the cause of autism.

"There's a lot of theories, but no one has been able to come up with anything definitive. Other than it's rapidly increasing," said Steve McAbee, a spokesman for the Developmental Disabilities Administration.

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