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June 6, 2013

Local Family's Journey Has Traveled Full 'Spectrum' of Autism

For four years, Scott and Jennifer Hale of Memphis sought answers for how to treat their son, Clinton, who suffers from autism.

Not until six months ago, did the family feel like it had finally found the right path for dealing with the medical condition.

"During that time we traveled all over Missouri, seeing different doctors, visiting different clinics and simply searching for some answers," said Scott.

That struggle is something the couple hopes to help other area families avoid as they deal with the expanding autism spectrum that effects as many as 1 out of every 50 children.

"It isn't hereditary and it isn't a virus," Hale said. "No one really knows what causes autism, it just happens, and it appears to be happening more frequently," Hale said. He noted that the autism spectrum is the fastest growing disorder, outdistancing AIDS, cancer and other higher profile medical concerns in the number of newly diagnosed cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies autism as an urgent national public health concern as the diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade.

The couple began to have concerns about Clinton when, at the age of two, his communication skills had not developed as expected.

Signs of autism include difficulties with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. The severity of these issues varies greatly from patient to patient, ultimately falling under the spectrum of Autism, which diagnoses Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Delayed language development, one sign of the disorder, was what led the Hale's to seek help for their son.

Other signs include failure to use gestures or pointing to communicate despite the lack of language; difficulty or delay in the development of pretend play, or repeating or echoing words, phrases or memorized scripts over and over.

Particular behaviors and interests can also be signs of ASD in children. Signs include physical routines of rocking, spinning, swaying or twirling arms or flapping hands or fingers. Strong adherence to routines, order, rituals or preoccupation with particular toys or objects can also be symptoms.

Over the next four years, the Hales traveled to a variety of clinics and centers seeking aid to deal with the condition.

Finally they have settled into a support system that has Clinton receiving regular speech therapy through Scotland County Hospital as well as through the Scotland County R-I School District.

Clinton has a communication device that helps him interact with his parents and teachers. The handheld machine allows Clinton to input his desired speech and then conveys it to the appropriate target.

The Hales praised the Thompson Center in Columbia, the largest center in Missouri specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental disorders. The Hales were among more than 7,800 individuals from communities across Missouri and the Midwest region who participated in outreach training and continuing education programs during the past year at the center.

The family visits the center every six months for regular checkups. The program also includes visits to Kansas City for therapy and child psychologist visits.

It was during one of the trips to therapy at Scotland County Hospital when the idea for a local support group grew wings.

Scott asked the therapist if she worked with any other families dealing with autism. They were surprised to learn there were several.

After further review, Scott said census data from 2010 indicated there are 96 individuals in Scotland County dealing with ASD with 142 in Clark County, 88 in Schuyler County and 82 in Knox County.

"With more than 400 area people dealing with this, and likely more that haven't been diagnosed, we started thinking it would be nice to have more local resources," Scott said.

So the Autism Spectrum Support group was born. The first meeting will be held Thursday, June 6th at the Scotland County Hospital Library from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Jennifer indicated the group will not only focus on public awareness of the disorders but will bring people into contact with the necessary resources to cope with the conditions.

"The idea is to help families get the aid they need and to help them get in touch with the right people so they don't have to go through the frustration we first did," said Scott.

With a second meeting set for June 13th, the couple anticipates scheduling additional gatherings with hopes of creating a support network for families dealing with ASD.

"We will have informational speakers as well as time to ask questions so people may get whatever support they need," Jennifer said.

The couple plans to create a Facebook page for the support group to keep the public informed of meeting times and date as well as other future developments.

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