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Autism cases on the rise

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 3:46 p.m. CDT
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(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Adam Wolk, 20, of Johnsburg, who is autistic, begins work on a puzzle Monday at his home in Johnsburg. When doing puzzles, Wolk usually starts with the middle pieces and can finish multiple large puzzles in a day.

Every day could be considered a milestone for Adam Wolk – just not the ones that most 20-year-olds are used to celebrating.

He didn’t receive his driver’s license when he turned 16, won’t have his first taste of alcohol when he turns 21 and most likely won’t get married or have children.

But the parents of Wolk, who has autism, wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.

“Adam is our biggest challenge, but our biggest reward,” said his mother, Anna Wolk. “He has made us all stop and be in the moment. We don’t ask for sympathy, all we ask for is understanding and acceptance of our [autistic] child.”

Adam Wolk of Johnsburg has undergone numerous treatments and deals with seizures that require daily medication. Because of his aggressive behavior, the police also have been called to his home several times.

Wolk is a student in the special education program at Woodstock North High School and is one of a growing number of children diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s syndrome or a related developmental disorder, according to the results of a recent parent survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Analysis showed a drastic increase in those children ages 6 to 17 diagnosed with a developmental disorder as compared with the 2007 parent survey – up to 1 in 50 children from 1 in 86 children previously, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

The increase was attributed to previously undiagnosed cases and a spike in awareness among parents, doctors and schools when it comes to autism spectrum disorders, the national report states.

“The big changes are people being more aware of the conditions and have begun looking for them,” said Dr. John Beckerman, a pediatrician at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. “The important thing we are seeing now is early recognition leading to early treatment.”

After a physician determines that a child could be at risk for a developmental disorder, the child generally is referred to an early intervention program where he or she would undergo speech and occupational therapies, among other things.

If concerns worsen, a neurologist could become involved, and medications to help with symptoms could be prescribed.

The Autism Support Group at Options and Advocacy for McHenry County takes in about 10 new cases each month. The program, which is a little more than a year old, provides services to more than 100 families.

The nonprofit organization offers a service coordination program, resources and referrals for those seeking help, support groups, educational advocacy and an autism wraparound program for families faced with extreme circumstances.

The wraparound program consists of five to seven families, with anywhere between three and seven families on a waiting list, said Winter Noe, director of the Autism Support Group.

“Schools are doing all that they can, but can only provide so much,” Noe said. “Overall, having a child with developmental disorder may not be that bad, but their needs become so much that the parents become trapped and need to know how to better handle the situation.”

Services for each individual revolve around creating a whole team around them, including schools and other providers. It includes an intense plan to work on goals directly related to communication skills and social and safety awareness, to name a few.

There also is respite support offered to the family members in charge of taking care of their developmentally disabled child.

“We see the increase here in McHenry County,” Noe said. “Better diagnostic tools and a better understanding of these disorders has something to do with the increase, but it doesn’t explain it entirely.”

Also in the new study, 1 in 31 boys had received a diagnosis, up from 1 in 56 boys in 2007. For girls, 1 in 143 received a diagnosis, up from 2004 girls in 2007.

The same rings true in McHenry County, where the majority of those with developmental disorders at Options and Advocacy are boys.

“We have way more boys and only a handful of girls,” Noe said.

Adding more services for adults after the age of 22, which is when special education offerings at public schools end, is a priority of all agencies throughout the county.

“We have a lot of early intervention services for younger children, but when they get older, it get harder and harder,” Noe said. “One of our goals is to offer support for adults in the spectrum because they still need support.”

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