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Articles | Autism Key
 

 
 

Bill Gates Says Anti-Vaccination Groups “Kill Children”

In a recent one-on-one interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bill Gates discussed his foundation’s $10 billion pledge over the next ten years to develop and deliver vaccinations to children worldwide. When the recent Andrew Wakefield scandal was brought up by Dr. Gupta, Gates re-affirmed the charge that Dr. Wakefield used fraudulent data for his 1998 study, mainly due to financial interests in lawsuits at the time. Additionally, Gates went on to say that people who engage in anti-vaccination efforts “kill children.”

While there is no doubt reduced vaccinations levels over the last ten years has led to many preventable diseases and even some deaths, Gates’ statement is a bit misleading.

Most responsible “anti-vaccine people” are not running around discouraging parents from vaccinating their children. And in fact, the term “anti-vaccine” is a mischaracterization as most people on the other side of the debate are not advocating for the elimination of vaccines, as Gates implies. 

In realty, vaccine awareness groups (a more applicable term) such as Safe Minds and Generation Rescue have been pushing for education and awareness of potential dangers and safety concerns. Furthermore, there has been a strong effort by these types of organizations to revise the current CDC vaccination schedule, not eliminate it altogether. 

Obviously, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is doing significant work in helping to improve the health and safety of children around the world. However, as with most involved in the vaccine-autism debate, there is typically no middle ground when it comes to this issue. Opposing groups are always convinced that the other side is wrong, leaving very little room for compromise. As a result, sweeping and sensational accusations are made, which include  “anti-vaccine groups kill children” from one side and “pharmaceutical companies poison children” from the other. 

It would be nice to see a little more objectivity in this continuing debate. However, don’t expect it from Bill Gates, particularly since he is so heavily vested in the pro-vaccine movement — to the tune of ten-billion dollars. 

It should also be worth noting that Gates himself has been suspected to have Asperger’s Syndrome, which would further throw any objectivity out the Windows.


Shock Treatment for Children with Autism?

Andrey Volodin

According to the Washington Post,  Electroconvulsive Therapy Machines (ECT) will soon be required to undergo the same rigorous testing as other medical equipment currently on the market.  A 1974 law mandating the close scrutiny of new medical devices allowed ECT to be grandfathered in and escape scrutiny.  Now, this momentous decision will have far-reaching consequences for ECT use in the future, particularly when it applies to those with autism.

As a treatment for severe depression and other mental disorders, ECT or ¨Shock Treatment,¨ as it is commonly referred to, delivers an electrical current to the brain, which induces a seizure.  This seizure causes the patient to temporarily lose consciousness.  Scientists don’t understand why the clinically-induced seizures relieve psychiatric symptoms in some patients, though they think it that it is somehow linked with the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Like chemotherapy, the patient must adhere to a maintenance schedule of further treatments.

Serious memory loss is a big side-effect of ECT.  Others report hallucinations and the inability to engage in creative activities they once enjoyed.  Proponents describe the therapy as life saving, while others contend it is barbaric and unconscionable, sending medical science back to the Middle Ages.

ECT has been around for seventy years but recently has been used to treat children with autism, particularly those who are self-injurious.  Apparently, in some cases, incidents of self-harm by these children are significantly reduced by ECT therapy.

Parents of children who injure themselves most likely turn to ECT treatment as a last resort and are understandably relieved to see their child’s self destructive behaviors diminished.  However, no studies have been done on the long-term effects of ECT use on children with autism, and that remains a major concern.  Certainly, using it in extreme cases should not open the door to more widespread autism applications.

But one of several medical abstracts (¨Could ECT Be Effective in Autism?¨2004), reveals a wistfulness in the medical community to do just that:

There are recent speculations that certain types of autism may be the earliest expression of catatonia and that both disorders have identical risk factors. Therefore, ECT may improve autism and, if started early enough, may prevent further development of autistic symptoms in some children.

The study goes on to say that no assessments of the use of ECT in children have been done since the 1940´s when it was decreed safe and effective for people of all ages, and the prejudice against it is the biggest obstacle that must be overcome.

Fortunately, the FDA mandating a complete review of ECT machines will help put on the brakes on their widespread use before discovering the potential long-term ramifications.

Large Lawsuit Settlement Sets Poor Precedent

A federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida has finalized a settlement, awarding a mother of a child with autism $427,000 for an incident that took place nearly three years ago, when her son was voted out of kindergarten by his classmates. In May of 2008, teacher Wendy Portillo brought Alex Barton to the front of the class and took a vote from his peers whether or not he should remain in class. The youngster lost 14-2.

As upsetting as this case is, the lawsuit award may be equally as troubling.

On a daily basis, many children with autism incur bullying, teasing, harassment or even worse. I can recall multiple incidents over the years where my son with autism has been made to feel like an outcast and humiliated by the cruel actions of others, including adults. Does this mean he is entitled to a six-figure lawsuit settlement as well?  Granted, the Barton incident was exceptionally cruel and insensitive, but did it really warrant a half-million dollar payout, which will eventually be funded by taxpayer dollars?

While I can sympathize with what the Barton family has endured, I’m afraid this is another example of just how litigious our society has become. It also sets a very poor precedent for other parents who will be looking for a payday in the future when their children are treated in unfair or mean-spirited ways. 

Even worse, it sets a poor example for our children on how to resolve bullying, which will inevitably come their way throughout their lives.

Snow Day Strategies for Children with Autism

Sledding in Snow

istockphoto.com/vnosokin

Routines and schedules are the mantra for those with autism and their families. If fact, they are so important to a child on the spectrum, any change in their daily habits can cause much anxiety or stress.

A big “change” that is currently affecting a lot of families is related to the relentless winter weather. And while the thought of a snow day sends neurotypical kids into stratospheric realms of giddiness and glee, children on the autism spectrum usually have a hard time coping with the breach in their daily schedules.

So what is a parent to do? 

For starters,  patience is of the utmost importance. Additionally, here’s a few ideas, taken from other parents in the snowed-in trenches, that will help ease the stress of disrupted schedules from the winter weather:

1. Talk about the possibility of school closing before it happens.
As soon as it looks like a bad weather closing is a possibility, begin to talk with your child. Explain that the snow makes it dangerous to drive or walk to school and that its safer to stay home. Use pictures, if necessary, and talk up the fun activities that can be done instead of going to school. When the actual snow day occurs, knowing that alternative activities exist will most likely keep your child’s anxieties to a minimum.

2. Go out and play in the snow.
For kids with sensory systems that don’t mind the cold temperatures and the extra layers of clothing, go out and play in the snow (weather permitting). Snow play has an endless list of activities. With fellow neighborhood kids out playing too, social skills can be practiced and developed as well. Sledding is not only physically challenging but pulling a sled, while trudging up a snowy hill helps to work on balance and coordination. This is an OT exercise in disguise! For younger children, practice counting snowballs, then work on gross motor skills by stomping on the snowballs. And who can forget making snow angels? Make a whole angel family and practice identifying emotions by finger drawing different facial expressions.

3. If your child prefers to stay indoors, have a special container of new and fun things to do just on snow days.
This special, plastic storage container might include movies, music, books and toys that are used only on bad weather days. You might even include special snacks or treats as well. Make sure that the container’s items and activities are only used on days when the schedule changes abruptly. And take out only one item at a time to avoid over-stimulation.

4. If you’re not intimidated by snow on the roads (and the roads are indeed safe to drive on) go out for a drive.
Drive to the nearest indoor play center . Chances are that the snow has deterred most people and those indoor playgrounds won’t be as crowded.

5. Go along with the theme of the snow day and make snowflakes.
Using coffee filters, create paper snowflakes. Fold them in fourths and cut small shapes from the folds to make snowflakes. Drizzle on glue and sprinkle with glitter for a sparkly effect. Once dry, use scotch tape to hang on windows and around the room. For more details, visit “Make-a-Flake” to create virtual snowflakes and save them to the snowflake gallery.  You can also make edible snowflakes by folding flour tortillas in fourths and then using scissors to cut shapes out of the folds, just like when you cut a paper snowflake. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle on some cinnamon sugar and bake at 350 degrees until crispy.

Sudden changes in a child’s schedule can be difficult, but with a focused effort on communication and a few treats, the disruption in routine and subsequent day off can turn into a lot of fun for all involved.

When it Comes to Autism, All States are Not Created Equal

The Reason Why We Fight

Despite the recent proposals by various states to pass or introduce autism insurance reform, the reality is that most states in the country are still extremely deficient when it comes to providing autism-related funding and services. The lawmakers have realized the error of their ways and are now grandstanding before the media (and everybody else) gets a grip on reality about what has been going on.

One year ago, I left everything in Washington State, including my home and older children, to move to upstate New York to get the best possible services for my four-year-old son with autism. Washington is currently ranked 48th in resources for autism and New York is ranked fifth. The westernmost accommodating states are Wisconsin and Missouri. The rest are in the northeast, and include New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Add in a tremendously low cost of living in upstate New York (because of the harsh winters), and you have one of the best places to live for autism services. Families have been migrating to these top states for help for the last ten years and thankfully, they are getting it.

In my opinion, Boone County, Pennsylvania, is the number one place to live, hands down. However, the million-dollar Pocono lifestyle and homes are way out of most families’ budgets. That’s why I came to Onondaga County, New York, where my son is receiving up to a half-million dollars in therapy and services each year. 

Australia and the United Kingdom are way ahead of the US in providing proper treatment and therapy to all diagnosed persons with autism. Catching up will be difficult.  At the current rate, our Social Security system (and other government programs) will be bankrupt within seven-to-ten years. The estimates of the well drying up in 2037 are incorrect, and lawmakers know it.

Don’t get too exciting when reading the latest headlines about autism "reform" and lofty promises by lawmakers. These rarely trickle down into hands of a child’s immediate needs. In fact, due to the lack of properly trained professionals, it will take years to see any meaningful difference.

I spent fourteen months advocating and battling for services in Washington State. This is a no-tax state, which was part of the problem. After tremendous paperwork, getting advocates involved, and nasty battles, I ended up with 3 days a week, 2 ½ hour early intervention sessions with unprepared teachers. As a result, we had minimal results and non-productive speech. The teacher and speech therapist meant well but lacked the training and skills needed to be effective. I appreciated their efforts, but the reality was that my son was not thriving.

The school district did not want to give my child summer school or an ESY (Extended School Year). This was critical because it’s been proven that without three or more days of a school program and therapy, a child with autism will show regression. As a result, an effective autism school and/or early intervention program will be year-round and not just occur during the regular school year. Study the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) laws and know them before your first IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting, so you are well-informed about these issues.

What Washington gave me in place of not having a summer program, was a self proclaimed "Autism Therapist." After four sessions into her therapy and personally witnessing her slamming my child into his chair, whiplashing another student, and having zero progress with another, I pulled my child out. She grabbed my arm forcefully as I was leaving with my family, seething with anger and tried to intimidate me saying, “your child is a hard one.” A call to CPS should have been made, but I vowed to focus solely on my son’s healing and not get bogged down in lawsuits or "he-said, she-said" accusations.

Without a doubt, the best programs in Washington pale in comparison to the worst programs in New York.  If that were not the case, I wouldn’t be foreclosing on a half-million dollar horse farm, recovering from a divorce or given away most of my things.

My studies and conversations with other parents and personal experiences have led me to the conclusion that the state you are in will define your child’s future. 

As stated, lawmakers are continuing to hash things out, but these changes will not make an immediate difference when it comes to hands-on therapy.  So if your state does happen to pass laws handing out cash or institute legislative mandates, there is the secondary issue of finding the properly trained persons to address the therapies and services that are being funded.

Don’t believe people just because they are in an administrative or authoritative positions. They are not all bad, but the majority lack the proper knowledge and training. There’s no excuse since the research has been completed and proven.

Your child doesn’t have a lot of time. Moving to a state where resources are available five days a week through a school system should be strongly considered. You need to have access to an agency like Enable, who will bring ABA into your home well after the early intervention period is over.

Forty-percent of non-verbal autistic children will never speak. My son was almost one of them. This high percentage is directly linked to the lack of trained persons and no access to accommodating services in the majority of our states.. 

I cannot explain the joy I felt when two months of New York-style therapy brought out my son’s full speech at three years old. Now, thanks to the great state of New York and the SPICE program, I can finally hear him tell me and write his likes, dislikes, feeling, and fears.

Most importantly, he hugs me, kisses me and says, “I love you mommy, I really love you, I love you forever and ever!”

Washington State left my son and I with little hope when I was told, “he’s a hard one."  In only 9 short months, the services provided by New York caused me to receive daily progress reports and happy handwritten pictures expressing my son’s love for me.

It’s treasures like these that make moving 3,000 miles away, along with countless other sacrifices, all worth it in the end.

VTech V.Smile a Great Resource for Children with Autism

Amazon.com

It was this past August on my son’s fourth birthday when I hooked up his VTech V.Smile game for the first time.

In the pattern of how I have been teaching him new things, his older brother and I took turns playing while he eagerly watched on.

After finally getting his chance, his first experience was disastrously adorable and produced a lot of smiles, but no gaming skills. I have learned not to get stuck on game rules and focus on the bigger picture.

V.Smile, with a joystick, is a great starting point to the interactive gaming world for children with autism. Games vary from beginner, like Wubbzy and Winnie the Pooh, to the more difficult games such as Scooby Doo and Toy Story. It’s important to have a range of games on-hand with various difficulty levels because once a child grasps the joystick and functions, there’s no telling what he or she can do.

The V Motion controller is much harder and requires a child’s upper body to engage (similar to a Wii), instead of just a handheld joystick. We tried this briefly when one of our controllers broke, but it was just too difficult. As such, the V Motion is not a good place to start unless your child is accustom to playing a Wii.

Most of the games, including those from Nickelodeon and Disney, can be played on either format (V Smile or V Motion), but you will need to read each game box carefully. If your budget is tight, eBay and Half.com are great resources to acquire previously owned games. I have seen used consoles, with controllers and games included, for under $25.00 (plus shipping).

These games help improve hand-eye and body coordination, which is a great alternative to having your child aimlessly stimming and staring  into the TV all day. 

VTech teaches by using numbers, counting, letters, spelling, shapes, colors, sizes, tracing, matching, and math. There’s also a hand-held version which can be taken into the car and along to stores.

VTech is also valuable for children with autism because you have the option to play from one level to the next, or you can choose whatever level is best suited for your child. There’s also a learning area, and in many cases, a sing-along option with lyrics. There is a microphone option on many of the consoles, which adds the dynamic of karaoke.

Since August, my son has learned to correctly spell from Mickey Mouse, learned upper and lower case letters from Winnie the Pooh, and practiced math with Buzz and Woody, all while his favorite characters cheer him on.

As usual, the biggest lesson was mine. I will never again make the mistake of underestimating what my son’s hands and brain are capable of.

I highly recommend the VTech V.Smile. Its ease-of-use, simplicity, and diversity are great for teaching. I encourage parents of moderate-to-low functioning children with autism to check it out and don’t forget the extra controller so you can join in on the fun!

Update on Wrongful Death of Los Angeles Man with Autism

Mohammad Usman Chaudhry (AP/Chaudhry Family)

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that a federal jury has awarded $1.7 million dollars to the parents of an autistic man killed by a Los Angeles police officer.

Mohammed Usman Chaudhry was a Pakistani-American with high functioning autism whose keen interest in how people survive on the streets led to an encounter with Officer Joseph Cruz and his partner. The officers questioned Chaudhry as he slept beneath the stairs of an apartment house. Cruz maintained that out of nowhere, Chaudhry had attacked him with a knife and he had no recourse but to shoot him. 

However, DNA testing of the knife and his partner´s conflicting account failed to support his claim. The jury unanimously found that Cruz had used excessive force and acted in “a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner.”

The trial put the City of Los Angeles in an embarrassing position. After the Chaudhry death, Cruz had been fired in an unrelated incident for lying in a police report about a prisoner he had allowed to escape. When Cruz tried to get his job back, the city successfully argued that he was not credible and no longer deserved to be a police officer.

Then, during the Chaudhry hearing, City of Los Angeles lawyers were placed in the unenviable position of having to argue to the jury that Cruz was totally truthful about the circumstances of Mohammed´s Chaudhry´s death and no choice but to shoot him.

Not enough police departments have begun training officers in dealing with the burgeoning population of citizens with autism in their midst, and those who have need to go into more depth than the cursory one hour course commonly used. 

Interestingly enough, the $1.7 million dollar amount matches the same number of individuals estimated to be living with an autism spectrum disorder in the United States. That would mean Chaudhry’s family has been awarded roughly one dollar for every person with autism in the United States.  

It’s unclear if the jury was making a statement, or if the award amount is purely coincidental.

Either way, the court victory shows that municipalities now have 1.7 million reasons to get more training for their officers so similar incidents are avoided in the future.

Virginia Moves Closer Towards Increased Autism Benefits

Virginia Autism

Today, the Virginia House of Delegates moved closer towards providing increased autism coverage for residents of the state.  HB 2467 advanced on a "voice vote," despite opposition by some House members.  The proposed bill would mandate coverage of applied behavior analysis for children with autism between the ages of two and six, with a max. annual cap of $35,000 per child.

Some complained that the bill doesn’t do nearly enough as the requirements would apply to state government entities and not to self-insured businesses or businesses with 50 or fewer employees. A similar bill is moving through the Senate of Virginia.

The actions of the state of Virginia are part of a broader movement nationwide to increase coverage of services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Votes, an initiative launched by Autism Speaks, has had a major role in helping to enact this type of legislation across the country.

While these proposals by individual states are welcomed news, what is needed even more are sweeping federal changes that will help address the issue of autism services and insurance. Only then, will we begin to see parity across all fifty states in relation to services and support.  As of now, many states, including some of the larger ones, are seriously deficient in the types of services and programs they offer.

Although the bill is not what many wanted to see, at least Virginia is taking a step in the right direction to increase services for its residents. 

Now if only Utah, Wyoming and Oklahoma would get on board.  


Top iPad Apps for Children with Autism

iPad

apple.com

For families of children with autism, we know all too well the challenge of communication between us and the child. Autism affects both receptive and expressive communication skills and can often leave everyone frustrated at the inability to convey a simple request.

But Apple has unwittingly revolutionized the autism world with the technology of the iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch). Coupled with downloadable applications, or ‘apps’, that have been developed to enhance communication between children and their parents (or caregivers, teachers and therapists), the results are nothing short of miraculous as families are able to engage in quality time together.

Culled from several sources and parental input, here is a list of apps that are popular with special needs families:

Apps for Communication:

1. Proloquo2Go – Provides a full-featured augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) solution for those who have difficulty speaking. It contains text-to-speech voices, up-to-date symbols, powerful automatic conjugations, a default vocabulary and much more. Proloquo2Go, available for iPhone and iPad at $189.99, is considered a good alternative against buying an expensive AAC device.

2. First Then Visual Schedule – Allows the creation of visual schedules that provide positive behavior support through the use of images that show daily events (i.e. morning routine or therapy schedule) or steps needed to complete a specific activity, (i.e. using the restroom). First-Then Visual Schedule is completely customizable to each user’s individual needs and personal voice recordings and images can be added directly from their computer or iPhone camera (in addition to the images in the application’s stock li-brary) to create a schedule. This personalization allows for schedules to be created and updated on the go, helping transition through unexpected changes in a daily routine. Extremely useful for individuals in scenarios where visual schedules serve to increase in-dependence and lower anxiety during transitions through different activities. First-Then Visual Schedule is available for $9.99, currently offered in English and is compatible with iPhone and iPod Touch.

3. TapToTalk – Just tap a picture and TapToTalk speaks. Each picture can lead to an-other screen of pictures for more detailed conversation. TapToTalk allows the creation of personal AAC albums, with an option to add your own pictures and sounds, to meet the specific needs of the user and includes a library of over 2,000 pictures. Albums created in TapToTalk Designer are “synced” over the internet directly to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The TapToTalk app is available for free, but there is a yearly subscription fee.

4. AutismXpress – People with autism have trouble interpreting emotions and under-standing what different facial expressions may represent. Autism Xpress helps individuals recognize and express their emotions through its fun and easy to use feelings chart. The Autism Xpress iPhone app is available for free.

5. Grace – Grace is a digital version of the Picture Exchange Communications System, a book that helps those unable to speak to build sentences from relevant images. The app starts with 400 images that were chosen by non-verbal people as communication starters. For example, categories include colors, food and drink, my body, and places. Grace allows the users to build their “photo vocabulary” by snapping their own photos to use within the app. Grace is available for $38.

Apps for Parents:

6. IEP Checklist – An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is designed to support the educational needs of school aged students with disabilities. The IEP Checklist App helps parents of students with special needs become better informed advocates by making IEP information easier to access. Version 2 has active links to the relevant lan-guage in the federal regulations, allows users to record the IEP meeting or record notes, and has the capacity to print out notes and click on a checklist as requested items are discussed. The IEP Checklist app is free.

7. Behavior Tracker Pro – allows the tracking and graphing of behaviors by frequency, duration and rate. Option to record a video of behaviors or interventions to for later re-view with parents, teachers and therapists. Available for $29.99.

8. Autism News Reader – grabs the top stories from the best autism health news and information sites and delivers them to your iPhone. Available for $0.99.

Many autistic children also respond well to music and art, and some enjoy fast moving games or interactive storybooks. Since a child’s preference varies, here are some of the apps that my two sons enjoy (prices vary):
 
  • ABA Flash Cards
  • Doodle Buddy
  • Whiteboard
  • Virtuoso
  • Toy Story
  • Spongebob Marbles and Slides
  • Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart

Visit http://www.apple.com/itunes/ for more details.

Video Games Used to Enhance Skills of Those with Autism

Autism and Gaming

MSNBC.com

An eleven-year-old autistic boy in Edgewood, Washington with a keen interest for X-Box games, was recently labeled a ¨Cheater¨ by Microsoft for allegedly tampering with his account to boost his gaming scores.  This comes from a boy who didn’t play basketball because he believed taking the ball was stealing, so seeing the word ¨Cheater¨ beside his name and losing his gaming achievements was particularly devastating.

His mother contacted Microsoft, who stood by their assertion. Apparently, the ¨Halo¨ whiz had given his login information to a third party who likely boosted his scores. 

The right thing to do would be to remove the label, restore his legitimate achievements, give him a new username and password, and educate him (and others) about the need to keep information private. But Microsoft insisted on treating this case as they would any other.

This disheartening event calls to mind the general issue of gaming as a whole. 

Parents of children with autism are usually uneasy to see their already-isolated children consumed with video games for hours-on-end in front of a TV screen.

But researchers are beginning to see that quality in a different light, capitalizing on an autistic child’s extreme focus, adeptness with computers, and love of repetition as a teaching tool.

Enter John Lester, creator of ¨Brigadoon," an online game specifically for those with autism. 

He describes his creation at Braintalk:

“The idea is to create a private haven where people dealing with Asperger’s/Autism can practice their socialization skills in an environment where everyone knows everyone else. People dealing with Asperger’s/Autism sometimes have real difficulty dealing with social situations, and they are often filled with great creative ideas. Brigadoon gives them a place to meet other people also dealing with Asperger’s/Autism, a place to socialize with each other, and a place to build and create their own world filled with wonder and beauty.” 
In January 2011, MNSBC reported that researchers across the globe are now developing more and more video games for autistics. 

A multimedia, computer-based game designed to teach facial processing skills is in the works under the title ¨Let’s Face It." As a suite of mini-games, the program uses photos, sounds and positive feedback as part of a reward system to encourage kids to decode people’s facial expressions and emotions. 

Cutting-edge researchers in Ireland are also creating games to study cognitive skills in those with autism, using gesture recognition software that registers the players’ movements and transfers them to the screen. 

“From my work, I know that a lot of children [with autism] have production skills we never would expect,” says Maggie McGonigle, leader of the project and an expert on non-verbal communication. “So I’m hoping that language-like skills are locked up in their brain even if they can’t speak.”

Soon there will be a plethora of choices that tap into an autistic child’s passion for video games.  These are great resources that will help take advantage of a child’s strengths, allowing them to develop much needed skills to help better prepare them for day-to-day life and hopefully for many, independent living.

And rest assured, they won’t risk being branded a cheater by Microsoft.

 
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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
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