The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Helping to improve autism awareness

Autism has been termed as the largest growing developmental disability in the United States. A 2007 study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that about 1 in 150 8-year-old children in multiple areas of the United States had an Autism Spectrum Disorder, an increase from the 1 in 166 figure reported by the CDC in January 2004.

With the growing numbers of individuals being diagnosed with autism, there has been an urgent need for raising public awareness. Increased and accurate awareness of ASD can help people plan for the resources needed such as therapies, trained teachers, diagnosticians, health care providers and related service professionals. Most importantly, increased awareness can help deter autism through early intervention.

Journalism professor Stanley Landes is father to a 15-year-old autistic child, Teddy Landes. Landes said that raised awareness is equally important to parents with autistic children as well as anyone else.

“It is important for parents to know about it as soon as possible because early intervention has been demonstrated as the best avenue towards progress and success of these kids,” he said. “To the broader society, it is important because this is a growing problem.

“It’s really a situation where society as a whole provides some help. People can help; people can spare a little time, contribute money to organizations.”

Autism can be a challenge not only to the affected person but also to the families. It can be a pressure for families struggling through in search of options and resources.

“Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of autism in their child,” said Andrea Rashtian, a psychology professor at CSUN. “As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one thing to the point of exclusion of others for long periods of time.”

Parents often notice the rocking behaviors or self-abusive behaviors, or parents notice that their child is not speaking as early as other children in their peer groups,” she said. “This can have a devastating effect on families.”

Rashtian said that education about the disorder, symptoms and treatment options is imperative.

The CDC have called autism a “national public health crisis.” According to Landes, since autism is not a life-threatening situation and affected kids have a full life span ahead of them, there has to be more wakefulness toward increased government funding and government oversight in the field of autism research.

“We have to make this a national initiative,” Landes said. “Years ago, the Kennedy administration decided to send a man to the moon. Government initiative was behind it. Lo and behold! We had a man on the moon,” he said.

Teddy Landes was diagnosed at the age of three after his parents noticed some warning signs and soon after enrolled him in therapy. A family of four, including 13-year-old daughter, Nora, they have been involved with Cure Autism Now for five years.

Cure Autism Now (1995) and Autism Speaks (2005), now a single non-profit organization after the merger, have been nationally active in research, funding and advocacy since their inception. Commemorating the National Autism Awareness Month, the two organizations carried out a walk event, “Walk Now,” on April 28 in Pasadena.

While there are large-scale organizations pushing for research and awareness in the field, there are many others who are helping out locally. At CSUN, the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic, Speech Clinic and Family Focus Resource and Empowerment Center reaches out to families with autistic kids and provides them with resources and services. CSUN also offers special education courses to the students.

FFREC is located in Antelope Valley, San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita. In the San Fernando Valley, the center is housed on campus. A referral and educational organization that serves families of individuals with or who are at-risk for developmental delays or with other disabilities, FFREC also participated in the walk event.

Ivor Weiner, executive director of FFREC and an assistant professor of special education at CSUN, said that all staff members at the center have kids with disabilities.

“They have been through this journey,” Weiner said. “Parents establish a rapport with them and feel they can trust my staff.”

“We are an informational, referral and educational organization. We go out to community and outreach,” she said. “All the services are free. The only one thing we charge for is the annual conference that we have. At the conference there are vendors, keynote speakers and breakout sessions-good information for parents and families.”

Early intervention helped his autistic daughter, Layla, progress through her disability, Weiner said. A student at CHIME Charter Elementary in Woodland Hills, Layla is not pulled out for special education. At CHIME Charter, all kids are a part of programs that support them to achieve their maximum potential.

“She has broken windows,” Weiner said. “I have seen her spitting at kids, screaming at them. I could not take her to the park; she would start throwing rocks. She has come a long way and early intervention was the key. You got to have a resilient attitude towards things. Everything is a challenge; you have to work through it. I have to look at it how she was years ago.”

Theresa Quary works with Weiner and is a coordinator for individuals who are three to 22 years of age. She is a mother to two autistic girls: a 6-year-old and 8-year-old.

“At the center, we help empower people by finding resources for families who have children that are autistic,” Quary said. “Seventy percent of families that we service here are either autistic or on the autistic spectrum. We say spectrum because you can be autistic and have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), sensory difficulties, speech difficulties, behavioral problems or a lack of social skills. Like sometimes they may have difficulty interacting with others.

“When you take your children in for their doctor’s appointment, it is important to let your doctor know if you notice something,” Quary said.

“As soon as you find out, go with therapy and do whatever you need to. A lot of parents are in denial; you just got to say what I can do for my kids?”

Located at the Michael D. Eisner College of Education, FFREC does its part of educating the families of autistic children. Inside the music building, the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic provides sessions to kids with disabilities by using music as a “healing art.”

It is also a teaching clinic where sessions are open for student learning.

Penny Roberts has been a music therapist for about four years, and a part of CSUN’s therapy program for approximately three years. As a former piano teacher, Roberts had students with special needs. Inclined more towards teaching the disabled kids, she turned to becoming a music therapist.

“Music therapy uses music to address non-music goals,” Roberts said. “This means that we assess our clients to find out both their strengths and what things they need assistance with. We then design a program to focus on bringing out the strengths while designing a musical way of helping them achieve these goals. We create musical activities and experiences that assist a client in reaching goals, whether they can be physical, emotional, social, et cetera .”

In her everyday interactions with disabled individuals, Roberts claims to have faced both ups and downs.

“Each day working with clients has the opportunity to be both rewarding and frustrating as they struggle with their challenges just like the rest of us,” she said. “Just as we have ups and downs, they do as well. This means that some days they have amazing breakthroughs, and other days take two steps back. Some days something you do works amazingly well, and the next session the exact same technique doesn’t work as well. Each day and each cli
ent is a dynamic, ever-changing challenge that is unique in that particular moment.”

The clinic charges a fee for its services: $35 for half hour sessions or for 45-minute group sessions.

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