Today marks the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day. Every year, autism organizations around the world celebrate the day with unique fundraising and awareness-raising events. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and has a tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies. Although there are many families who have autistic children, the topic is still in many ways “the elephant in the room”. So many parents do not educate themselves about Autism or prefer to dismiss the idea that their child may have the disorder. However, doing so is very unfortunate for the child. There is not a cure for the disorder at this time, but medical research has proven that diagnosing a child at an early stage can improve future outcomes.
Today, I had the privilege of interviewing medical expert, Dr. Nina Radcliff. Dr. Radcliff has made appearances on the TV Show, “Dr. OZ”, in which she provided millions of viewers with her medical expertise regarding many health issues and concerns. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Dr. Radcliff is an author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews. She is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.
In honor of Autism Awareness Day, Dr. Radcliff has provided amazing medical advice and answered questions, I’m sure many parents have, about the disorder.
CN: What is Autism?
DR: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a brain disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction and communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
CN: What is the cause of Autism?
DR: We are learning more; but, we still do not have all of the answers. It appears that a combination of genetic and environmental factors influence early brain development. These include advanced parental age of either mom or dad, maternal illness during pregnancy, viral infections or exposure to environmental chemicals (e.g. heavy mercury). No two individuals with autism are alike. There is a motto that says “If you’ve met A child with autism, you’ve met A child with autism. Each and every one of them is so wonderfully different” .
CN: Are there any new findings on the disorder at this time? Is there a cure?
DR: Not at this time but it is possible a cure may be in the horizon. I advise parents that the earlier you diagnose your child, the better the future outcome will be. Sudden changes in the child’s behavior such as, difficulty in communication (speaking) and repetitive behavior is a possible sign of autism.
When a parent notices these changes, it is best to contact a pediatrician and/or healthcare provider immediately. Do your research. There are numerous websites which explain Autism, and they provide great resources. Through medical examination, a doctor can determine health issues, before the baby is born. Educating yourself on the disorder is very important. I recommend patients to attend a class which explains the disorder in full detail and provide them with useful external and internal resources.
CN: Many parents dismiss the idea that there is a possibility their child may be autistic. What is your advice to those who have difficulty discussing and handling the situation?
DR: I always tell my patients, if you diagnose your child at an early stage, it can improve future outcomes. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Jacqueline Laurita, of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” at her home to discuss her son Nicholas’ diagnosis of autism. What was most touching was when Laurita spoke about the “crash course” she was forced to take in order to understand autism and start treatment for her son ASAP. Time was not on her side. Like many of us, including myself, autism is something we only know a little bit about until it hits home. After my touching meeting with Jacqueline and Nicholas, I found a beautiful acronym for AUTISM that I got engraved for her family: “Angels sent from God, Unveiling themselves to the world, To unite us all, Influencing hearts minds and souls, Spreading compassion love and understanding, Making a difference in this misguided world”. Although an acronym for autism, these words are an inspiration by which most of can only aspire to live by.
If you would like to show your support for individuals with Autism and/or extend your research on the disorder, please feel free to visit the following websites, recommended by Dr. Radcliff: ninds.nih.gov, autism.com, autismspeaks.org, and autismsupportnetwork.com.