TUSTIN, Calif.(FinalCall.com)–Michael and Regina Muhammad’s two-year-old daughter was vibrant, social and vocal before a doctor’s visit for immunizations. One shot and several days later, her speech, language, social communication and interaction stopped, and she started showing initial signs of children with autism: stiffening, behavior issues, tantrums, sensitivity to noises and faded attention.
She is not alone. Researchers say autism, which affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play and relate to others, is rapidly on the rise with a comparable presence in both Black and White children. It strikes 3.4 per 1,000 children aged three to ten, and has a 4-to-1 male-female ratio, according to a 1996 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta-area study led by epidemiologist Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp.
Despite autism’s presence in both Black and White children, researchers charge that Blacks are often diagnosed at age six, approximately two years later than Whites.
Dr. David S. Mandell of the University of Pennsylvania attributes the late diagnosis to the fact that Black youth oftentimes do not get serviced by the same doctor during visits, and the possibility that clinicians may interpret symptoms differently in children of different races.
Early detection is key for a full, productive existence, experts say.
Parents have long cried that immunizations that include thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, causes autism and other developmental disorders in their babies who once exhibited normal social and behavioral skills.
Their outcry has spawned class-action lawsuits in California and at least 10 other states, according to recent reports. Concern over autism’s rapid spread prompted a California State Legislature to request a study by the University of California’s Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute to examine factors associated with the increase.
The Institute’s Dr. Robert Byrd’s executive summary of “The Epidemiology of Autism in California: A Comprehensive Pilot Study”, finds that a purely genetic basis for autism does not fully explain the observed increase in its prevalence. Other theories that might better clarify the case rise include environmental exposures to substances such as: mercury, viral exposures, autoimmune disorders, and childhood vaccinations.
Although the federal study confirmed the disorder’s marked rise, and despite charges and practical signs by parents of its connection to the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) and other vaccines, researchers say its causes are still unknown.
Whatever its origin, the Muhammads said they have found most pediatricians are incapable of recognizing and properly diagnosing the disorder, and public school educators are ill-equipped to provide critical skills and resources for the children on a daily basis.
“The majority of these children are brilliant minds trapped in uncooperative bodies. There‘s an epidemic of autism in the world, but we know that if there’s a medical problem, our people are the last to get treatment,” Mr. Muhammad stated.
Their daughter’s battle marked the opening of Crescent Academy, a long-anticipated early intervention program for children with autism. It focuses on behavior intervention, speech and language development, independent self help skills, social interaction and group play skills, sensory integration, pre-academics, music appreciation and toilet training.
The licensed program also provides practical and comprehensive academic, vocational and life skills training for children ages 3 to 7.
Mr. Muhammad stated that mothers know when something is wrong with their children, and must press pediatricians for answers and resolutions.
“Early diagnosis and intervention are key, and our people have to be empowered to know that if they feel that something is wrong, keep pushing the issue. What do you have to lose?” he continued.
Mrs. Muhammad urges parents to assert their rights and challenge school systems to either provide appropriate programs for their children, or seek assistance elsewhere.
“Under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), the public school system is responsible for a free and appropriate education. If you can prove that it is not servicing your special needs child, it is responsible for paying for that ultimate education for them,” she stated.
Proper education amounts to a power struggle between schools and parents of developmentally disabled children, who ultimately lose, particularly in poor, Black and urban cities where administrators will not bring in specialized teachers to train on special education.
Families must understand that children with autism and other disabilities can be taught to live productive, social lives. “You have to have a reputable program. You can’t just put the child in the corner with a T.V. and say you’re teaching him,” she said. Her ultimate goal is to establish a Muhammad University of Autism
Crescent Academy operates year-round and is open to every child and features two classrooms and other accommodations.
(For information, call (714) 731-1690 or you can visit http://www.crescentacademy.net/.)