Autism awareness needed

Published 9:00 pm Sunday, April 7, 2013

   What are the odds?

     The odds of being born a twin are 90 to one. The odds of being audited by the IRS are 175 to one. The odds of having your identity stolen – 200 to one. The odds of finding out your child is a genius, 250 to one. The odds of finding out your child has autism – 88 to one.

     Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. These symptoms and their severity vary widely across these three core areas. Taken together, they may result in relatively mild challenges for someone on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. For others, symptoms may be more severe, as when repetitive behaviors and lack of spoken language interfere with everyday life.

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     In recognition of Autism Awareness Week this past week, the staff at the Mississippi Adolescent Center (MAC) here in Brookhaven held an open house and informational reception for the community about the challenges of autism. Of the 32 individuals residing at MAC, 65 percent are diagnosed as autistic. One-third of those are non-verbal, while the remaining have limited verbal skills or articulation issues.

     The Mississippi Adolescent Center is a Department of Mental Health Facility dedicated to provide comprehensive services to adolescents with intellectual and developmental disabilities that need a specialized setting in which their behavior, education and socialization skills are fully developed. Their mission is to return the adolescents to their community with the skills necessary to lead a productive life.

     MAC is the only public Intermediate Care Facility of individuals with intellectual and developmental disorders and meeting the needs of these individuals must be challenging at best. According to Donna Horton, nursing home administrator at MAC, the facility serves individuals age 13 to 18 in need of active treatment for the management of behaviors, secondary to their diagnoses of intellectual and developmental disabilities.

     MAC currently serves all male residents, partly because the incidence of autism is four times greater in boys than in girls. Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.

     Coach Reggie Lea who has served at MAC for more than 10 years repeated an often-used phrase in reference to working with persons with autism. “Once you’ve seen one autistic person, you’ve seen just that – one.”

     Just as no two individuals are alike, even more pronounced is the fact that no two autistic persons are alike, nor are they likely to respond in a like or conventional manner.

     Dr. Steven Covey, the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks about being response-able or having response-ability, the ability to consciously chose how we respond to any satiation. One of the behavioral characteristics of autism is a lack of understanding of social expectations or social rules. Therefore, for the autistic individual this response-ability can be impeded.

     Lisa Bryant, Director of Autism Services at Boswell Regional Center, shared the challenges of behavior inconsistencies. Her son is living with Asperger Syndrome, part of the autism spectrum. She gave this example: Were her son to be stopped by a police officer, he could possibly react inappropriately, whether in exaggerated fear or anger due to his disorder. As innocent as the interaction might be, the misinterpreted social cues could easily result in potential danger to both individuals.

     The challenge and the hope for those affected by autism is understanding and awareness. Being aware of the challenges and the prevalence of autism is a start. I applaud the good work of all those at MAC. Learn more about autism at

   Rick Reynolds is president/publisher of The Daily Leader. Contact him at