Monday, May 14, 2007

Autism Rising in Nevada

The results of a decade-long study conducted by UNLV professors John P. Tuman and Sheniz Moonie found autism is on the rise in Nevada’s schools.

UNLV professors John Tuman and Sheniz Moonie have completed a decade long study on increasing autism rates in Nevada schools - from .27 per 1,000 in 1995 to 2.37 per 1,000 in 2004. This rate of increase is hard to explain away by any rationalization.

Professor Tuman notes that some autism cases are diagnosed as early as 24 months with signs noted as early as 15 months. In my sons case he was diagnosed 9 years ago at age 24 months and we noticed signs much earlier than 15 months although we did not think of, or even know about, autism at that time. He simply was not showing ordinary development milestones like giggling in response to peek a boo or responding in any noticeable way to attention. He did not use any typical baby words and barely spoke until long past 2 years of age - although he did use one word at an early age that stuck in my mind. While lying on the tile floor of a shopping mall, with his face pressed against the cool tile floor, Conor looked at the circular metal ring which formed the circumference of a drain pipe cover in the floor and said "circle". That reference to a geometric shape was the only word I heard him speak for a few years until we started using ABA to teach him words beginning with - apple.

Study: Autism rising
Professor shares findings

By Natalie Lombardo

UNLV political science professor and lead investigator of a study on the prevalence of autism in Nevada, John P. Tuman, spoke Wednesday about a nearly tenfold increase of the disorder in state schools.

Tuman was accompanied by his co-investigator Sheniz Moonie, a UNLV School of Public Health assistant professor, epidemiologist and biostatistician, speaking to a small group at the Carlson Education Building. Tuman said that 15 out of the 17 school districts in Nevada have experienced an increased prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Counties such as Clark, Lander and Churchill had prevalence of one in 322, one in 224 and one in 250 in 2004. Esmeralda County is the only district in Nevada that reported zero prevalence from 1994 to 2004. “I do not think this statistic is unusual because Esmeralda enrolls fewer than 80 students,” Tuman said, pointing out that the larger the district the more prevalence of autism.

He said the average prevalence of autism increased in Nevada from .27 per 1,000 in 1995 to 2.37 per 1,000 in 2004. He added that the average prevalence of learning disabilities have increased from 84 per 1,000 in 1995 to 92.4 per 1,000 in 2004, which is the largest increase in the state.

In 1943, about a dozen children were observed with having an extreme social disability. Their inability to interact with others was characterized as “autism” by a psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Kanner.

Since Kanner discovered this disorder, research and knowledge of autism has come a long way.

Today, autism is not only characterized by children who have difficulties communicating in a social scene, but also by unresponsiveness, slow development, sometimes being mute, attachment to routines, impaired speech and temperamental behavior.

Having a child with autism, Tuman is extremely passionate about his studies, noticeable through during his lecture.

He also looked at resources and funding for more research and dealing with the disorder correctly in schools.

“Funding has a positive and statistically significant help in detecting children with autism,” he said. More funding would allow school districts to have the tools needed to detect students with autism and give them the special needs and attention required of autistic children.

Tuman said that although the average age of diagnosis for autism is 24 months, there have been cases where autism signs were noticed as early as 15 months.

He said differences in social and economic characteristics of school districts influence the identification of ASD, providing statistics to the audience.

Tuman and Moonie collected data about the prevalence of ASD from the Nevada State Department of Education. The data included statistics on disorders such as mental retardation, learning disabilities and speech and language impairment. The data received was from each school district in the state.

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