Sponsored by the Berks County Chapter of the Autism Society of America, the billboards are meant to reach families who need support and alert the public about this developmental disorder.

By By:Diane Van Dyke

By Diane Van Dyke

Assistant Editor

Motorists this month will notice seven billboards throughout Berks County bearing information about autism.

Sponsored by the Berks County Chapter of the Autism Society of America, the billboards are meant to reach families who need support and alert the public about this developmental disorder.

What is autism?

According to the Autism Society of America (ASA), autism is a complex developmental disability that affects an individual in the areas of social interaction and communication. The developmental disorder occurs in roughly one in every 166 people, according to the National Institute of Health.

Autism has no known cause or cure. However, intervention - particularly early intervention in the preschool years - improves the quality of life and eventual outcome.

Not everyone with autism has the same symptoms or sensitivities. It is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently and to varying degrees of severity.

Autism and its related cousins fall under the umbrella of pervasive developmental disorders, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The five categories are autism, Asperger's syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Rett's syndrome and PDD-NOS (not otherwise specified).

During the month of April, and throughout the year, you may notice people wearing or displaying the colorful Autism Awareness puzzle ribbon (shown above in the photograph). The puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of autism. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the disorder. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope-hope through research and in the increasing awareness.

Signs of autism

Autism is typically diagnosed by the age of three. Parents are usually the first to notice developmental delays or signs of autism in their child. Some children seem delayed or do not develop skills early on, while others seem to be developing normally and then regress or lose skills that they had already learned.

Signs of autism can include:

* No smiles or joyful expressions by six months.

* No back-and-forth sharing of sounds by six months.

* No babbling by 12 months or single words by 16 months.

* No two-word phrases by 24 months.

* No pointing, waving or showing objects by 12 months.

* No interest in baby games like peek-a-boo. Little or no eye contact.

* Resistance to being hugged or held.

* Unconventional play with toys, such as only lining them up a certain way.

* Repetitive body movements: rocking, spinning, head- banging, hand-flapping.

* Unusually strong resistance to changes in routines.

* Extreme sensitivity to sounds, textures and smells.

* Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills.

Asperger's Syndrome

Listed on the autism spectrum and named after the man who discovered this disorder, Hans Asperger, Asperger's Syndrome is often not diagnosed at such an early age.

Because there are no significant language delays or cognitive deficits with Asperger's Syndrome, parents often first notice the symptoms when their child starts preschool and begins to interact with other children.

Children with Asperger's Syndrome may:

* Have normal or above average intelligence.

* Have good-sometimes superior-grammar and vocabulary.

* Have impaired social interaction and communication.

* Avoid eye contact.

* Be unable to play with their peers and have difficulty making friends.

* Not understand other people's emotions.

* Find it difficult to accept/understand simple social rules.

* Have repetitive or obsessive behaviors.

* Dislike changes in routine.

* Be preoccupied with particular subjects or interests.

* Resist being cuddled or kissed.

* Have extreme sensitivity to sound, textures, and smells.

If your child has these signs, it does not mean that he or she definitely has autism or Asperger's Syndrome; however, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.

Education and support

Founded in June 2000, the Autism Society of Berks County (ASBC) is a registered chapter of the Autism Society of America. This volunteer organization is made up of parents and family members of individuals affected by an autism spectrum disorder, as well as professionals working in the field.

Meetings are usually held the second Monday of each month at the Reading Jewish Community Center, 1700 City Line Street, Reading from 7-9 p.m. Babysitting services are free and available for persons who call or e-mail in advance.

Throughout the year, Berks ASA offers activities for families, including

Presenters at the ASBC seventh annual conference will include Dr. Robert Naseef and Jerry L. Tanenbaum, Esq. Naseef, a father of a son with autism, is a psychologist in Philadelphia and a consultant to numerous schools and human service organizations. His first book, "Special Children, Challenged Parents: The Struggles and Rewards of Parenting a Child With a Disability," received international recognition. He has lectured internationally and appeared on radio and television.

Tanenbaum is a partner in the Cherry Hill office of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, LLP. He represents children with special learning needs or other disabilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in matters involving the provision of a free and appropriate education, placement and tuition reimbursement, student discipline and school-related bullying and harassment.

For more information visit www.autismsocietyofberks.org or call 610-736-3739.

Contact assistant editor Diane Van Dyke at 610-367-6041, ext. 228 or

dvandyke@berksmontnews.com.ˆ ˆ ˆ ˆ ˆ ˆ 

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