CDC funds Utah autism study

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    By Michael Pedersen

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the Utah Department of Health $1.2 million to establish a registry to help learn how many Utah children under the age of 10 have Autism Spectrum Disorders.

    Once thought to be rare, autism now affects 1 in 250 children on a national scale.

    Autism is a group of developmental disabilities caused by abnormal functions of the brain, suspected to be due to genetic and environmental factors.

    Children with autism commonly have disrupted social relations, communication deficiencies, and unusual repetitive interests and behaviors.

    “Support for this type of research is critical,” said George Delevan, M.D, Director of UDOH”s Division of Community and Family Health Services. “We know that more children are being identified with autism. Recent estimates of autism prevalence are more than double from those reported earlier.”

    Research will be conducted jointly between the UDOH and the University of Utah”s Health Sciences Center, Autism Research Program and Department of Psychiatry.

    The principal researchers, Dr. Judy Zimmerman and Dr. William McMahon, hope to learn more about autism by having Utah participate with multiple registries throughout the country.

    “The Utah registry will have important implications for service delivery and research into the prevalence, causes and treatment of autism spectrum disorders,” Zimmerman said.

    During the 2000-2001 school year, more than 15,000 children between 3 to 5 years old and more than 78,000 children between the ages of 6 and 21 in the United States were identified as having autism, according to the CDC.

    The Utah Registry of Autism and Developmental Disabilities project expects to identify over 1,600 autistic children between 3 through 10 years of age living in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah Counties.

    “The registry will provide significant benefits for Utah families,” said Carmen Pingree, an advocate for families with autism. “Not only will the registry assist providers in planning expansion of services, but it will increase public awareness and facilitate early intervention that is so vital to the child”s future.”

    Parents and families with autistic children are happy with the grant because they believe it can improve the current situation of helping children with autism.

    “I think it”s important, especially because there are so many kids that could use therapy,” said Kimber Dower, a pediatrics occupational therapist.

    Insurance doesn”t currently cover therapy for children with autism, Kimber said.

    “Hopefully, if there is an outcome proving the severity of the problem here in Utah, insurance policies will change and allow more help to the families with autistic children so they can receive the necessary therapy,” she said.

    The Carmen B. Pingree School for Children with Autism opened Tuesday in Salt Lake City to eventually accommodate 250 children.

    The school”s purpose is to focus specifically on autistic children to prepare them to enter classrooms in school districts around Salt Lake Valley, said Connie Hines, a Valley Mental Health spokeswoman.

    “Not only do you have to do reading, writing and arithmetic but you need to be able to get lunch,” said Pete Nicholas, the school”s director.

    The school has a 2-to-1 student to adult ratio to be able to meet the needs of the children better, Nicholas said.

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