Much work being done in the region for those with autism

Joan Paton, Director of Development, Autism Society of Edmonton Area (ASEA) speaking to the Rotary members on Wednesday. – Lucie Roy Photo

by Lucie Roy

Local Rotarians learned about Autism Feb. 4. Joan Paton, Director of Development for the Autism Society of Edmonton Area (ASEA) was the service club’s breakfast meeting speaker.

Although her first trip to the community, Paton said Morinville has a real presence with the Society as the Town is one of the key places for the Autism Society’s Cycle for Autism event held in June.

Paton spoke of what autism is and what the Society does for the individual, family, and the entire community.

“Autism is a structural difference in the brain,” Paton said. “It has no cure and tends to run in families. Lots do not show signs until two years of age or older.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is called such because of the wide spectrum it covers from mild to extremely profound and everything in between.

The ASEA Director said 30 years ago autism was considered to occur in one in 2500 people. Because it is now considered a spectrum disorder that number has increased. The Edmonton metropolitan area, which includes Morinville has a population of 1,243,000 people. Of that number, 18,000 have autism or roughly one in 70 people.

“Now that it is determined [that] it is a spectrum, there are people from totally non-verbal, non-commutative, and non-responsive to people with a Ph.D. that cannot figure out how to tie their own shoes,” Paton said. “So there are 18000 different versions of autism out there because there are no two people that have exactly the same issue with autism.

Paton said the wide spectrum makes it challenging to help people with ASD. Boys are five times more likely to be affected by autism than girls.

“We occasionally see girls, but what we tend to see is girls not diagnosed until they are in their teens because they tend not to lose their ability to communicate,” Paton explained. “They still talk. A lot of boys with autism are non-verbal and were diagnosed earlier.”

The situation is problematic in that delayed diagnoses results in a lifetime of misunderstanding about why children behave as they do. Questions about the ability to pay attention or do certain tasks in undiagnosed children miss the fact the child’s behaviour is because they have a medical condition, one that is because of structural difference in your brain.

Paton said some do not recognize faces. Although they can talk to you now, next week they may not recognize you. Minor changes are upsetting. Moving a coffee cup from where it should be can become a major issue with someone with ASD.

They often have obsessive interests and intense reactions to the way things sound, taste, feel and smell. Paton said the sounds fluorescent lights give off makes even going to a mall problematic because the sound is overwhelming,

ASD is not without its challenges in children and adults. People with autism have an 85 per-cent unemployment rate.

Although the society has Children’s Autism Clinic at the Glenrose, Paton said the society is working on starting an adult clinic. Services end for people with autism at the age of 18 if they have an intelligence quotient (IQ) that is over 70. If their IQ is 69 or below they still qualify for full-time paid workers with them.

Paton said much work is presently being done with seniors who have an adult child with autism living at home. Unable to relate, get employment or function on their own, the seniors are concerned with what will happen to their child when they pass away.

Next month the ASEA will launch a group social, recreational respite program, a sensory activity program for children, a sustainable living assistance, and a community kitchen program for families with children who have autism.

They are also working with NAIT and SAIT on their food preparation program, teaching how to cut vegetables the same way all the time, a skill that can help people with autism gain employment and overcome their limitations.

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