The keys to ‘unlocking’ autism
Boca woman says her autistic son’s condition improved during recent hurricane-related power outages
Published Sunday, December 26, 2004 at 1:00 am
by John Johnston
Throughout history, people have lived with what is known today as “autism spectrum disorders,” according to Dr. Jack Scott.
Scott, the director of Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) says his group serves 681-area residents.
The words “autistic” and “autism” are derived from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self.” The words are used to describe an individual’s exclusion of the outside world and virtual withdrawal from social life.
“That sounds like Hunter,” said Robin Crompton, the Boca Raton mother of a 4-year-old autistic child.
And it wasn’t until 2001 that there was a public split in the medical community about autism’s root cause or causes. The International Medical Conference on Autism meeting in Quebec City in 2001 concluded for the first time that autism is an autoimmune disease, rather than a mental handicap.
“Research will show there is a genetic predisposition to autism. What we have to find is the environmental insult,” said Dr. Ed Yazbak, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Boston.
“Physicians treating children diagnosed with autism must recognize the children are suffering a medical illness,” he said. “If pediatricians do not adopt the new thinking on autism, it will be left to crooks and charlatans to exploit desperate parents,” Dr. Yazbak warned
“It is a combination of genetic and environmental interactivity,” agreed FAU’s Dr. Scott.
Many say genetic factors alone can’t account for the rapid growth of autism cases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said there was a 10-fold increase in autism in Atlanta from 1986 to 1996. The California Department of Developmental Services reported that autism cases in the state more than doubled between 1987 and 1998. Autism is the second most common developmental disability, next to mental retardation, according to the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR).
And Robin Crompton thinks she has first hand information about a more abstract element of the environmental question. “The hurricanes came, and the power went out, and my son acted not autistic,” she told the Boca News.
“My doctor was floored,” she said, even as she wondered if this “means that Hunter’s autism is the result of over-stimulation, and dealing with it by shutting down? Or does it have to do with the electro magnetic part of electricity?” (Hunter’s neurologist Dr. Adel Helme was away for the holidays and not available for comment).
At the Haven, they also room together.
“John is a very loving and outgoing child,” she said. “He enjoys playing basketball, football, jogging, swimming, playing computer games, card games and watching TV.
Justin has similar interests, she said, including basketball, football, skateboarding, playing cards and watching TV. “He also enjoys quiet moments such as reading and listening to music.”
Anyone interested in adopting John and Justin can call Children’s Home Society at 561-868-4300.
A safe ‘Haven’
Stewart echoes Youte’s sentiment that finding adoptive homes for older children is difficult.
“We encourage reunification and do family counseling,” said the executive director. Coincidentally, one of the Haven’s residents was returned to a family this past week – the same day a new boy arrived. So the number of residents remained at 47.
Placements come from CHS and Child & Family Connections, among other agencies.
“We do a lot to encourage transition back to homes, but it doesn’t happen often,” he said. “An average stay here is three to three-and-a-half years. Some have been here six years.”
By law, said Stewart, when a child reaches the age of 18, he must be discharged.
The Haven is the only level 3 facility in Palm Beach County, meaning it can provide a home along with professional clinical therapy to children in its care.
The Haven’s director said many young men who spend their early years in non-family settings end up homeless or incarcerated. So the Haven works hard to educate children academically and to help them develop social skills in order to avoid these potential pitfalls.
“Our residents attend public schools,” he said. “We place a significant focus on academics. We have a fulltime academic coordinator. We have a scholarship program.”
Because many children at the Haven have been adversely affected by the abuse they endured in their early lives, it has a staff of therapists. “Some of these kids do have significant emotional issues,” Stewart said. “That is part of the reason they have been placed here. We have four full-time therapists, and we offer individual, group and family counseling.”
Youngsters also take part in structured daily activities. The Haven encourages civic responsibility and promotes community life.
Volunteer mentors also help provide guidance and support for the children. Stewart said the Haven could use more mentors. Anyone interested should call him at 561-483-0962.
At the Haven, the goal is to improve the facility – and to improve the lives of those there.
A feeling of family seems to pervade the place. As people walk along the open center corridor, they can see the basketball courts to one side – still showing damage from the hurricanes. On the other side is a recreation hall.
Spreading out to the sides and rear and four residential buildings. Two are named for Countess Henrietta de Hoernle and her late husband, Adolph, leading Boca Raton philanthropists who contributed to the construction of the buildings.
The Haven was founded in 1978 as a therapeutic residence for boys, offering “a safe and stable environment” and guidance toward a productive adult life, said Stewart.
“We have a philosophy – place kids above self. We have got a bunch of good kids,” he said. “And we have done a lot as an agency.”
Right now, the Haven is now in the process of upgrading its facility with new fur