Beginning my career in the early 1980s, I was employed by a public school system to provide speech and language therapy to school aged children within the setting and the time of school attendance. The problems that children displayed those 25-plus years ago would seem to fit into what I would refer to as "traditional" speech and language therapy. By this I mean we saw children who had problems with articulation (the way that sounds are formed into words), deficits in language knowledge and usage (the understanding and expression of the system for encoding and decoding communication information), difficulties in using fluent speech (stuttering), and disorders of the voice (the quality and attributes of the vocal system). Certainly we had a wide severity range for these areas of difficulty, however the number of disabilities that are now diagnosed and treated in comparison to then is mind-boggling!
In today's culture we see a tremendous increase in the incidence and severity of more and more disorders and disabilities. We see comprehension problems, learning with disabilities, attention disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), Dyslexia and Alexia, and many more. Another increasing disorder is Autism. Let's look at this disorder in detail. In 1980, autism was considered a rare disorder, with an estimated 2-5 per 10,000 people. In 1999, the California Department of Developmental Services issued a report entitled 'Changes in the Population of Persons with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders in California's Developmental Services System: 1987 through 1998' which reported a 273% increase in DSM-IV full-criteria autism cases enrolled in their program during that 10 year period of time. Currently, 1 in every 150 children will be diagnosed with autism, a disorder that brings heartache and chaos to basic family dynamics.
As noted earlier, my career began in a public system setting where I traveled between several different schools to provide speech and language therapy to school aged children. At that time, there was only ONE diagnosed case of Autism in the WHOLE school system, and I was assigned to his case. Today one will find numerous diagnosed cases of Autism in every school! One may wonder what is happening to cause such a dramatic increase in this relatively new disability. As a therapist, I have not only noted the unprecedented increase in the diagnosis of autism or one of the various diagnostic labels that fall within the autism spectrum, but also a broader classification system for the diagnosis. The "picture" of the typical autistic child has made dramatic and wide range changes in the years since beginning in the field of speech and language therapy. An extensive review of the medical, professional, and autism interest group literature results in a wide diversity of opinion and explanation to the apparent escalating rise of autism. One will find an extreme pivotal range from the most traditional and conservative to the most transitional and holistic of theory. There are the ones that state that autism has no cure, while others claim that there is a complete and definite cure.
Many medical professionals will explain it as a way of "better diagnoses" or a change in genetics. Some will blame the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccination given to children around their 15-16th month. Others believe it to be a problem of toxins and chemicals found in the foods eaten and the air breathed. Other less common causation theories exist as well. Trying to formulate one's own concrete opinion, given the variety of theories, can be quite confusing.
When we really look at our culture over the past 25 years, many changes have occurred. Our lifestyles and living habits are vastly different. We are now "high-speed" everything: Internet, cell phones, microwaves, drive-through eating, etc. In 1940 processed food constituted only 10% of the American diet, whereas today's diet is 90% processed. A 2005 report issued by the USDA stated every person should consume between 5 to 13 servings of fresh vegetables and fruits daily. But what is the average American person of today feeding their body? A recent national survey indicated that 40% of American people eat NO fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis! In knowing that, is it a wonder that we have a rise in health, learning, and developmental disabilities as we do in this country? Illnesses such as cancer; learning disabilities such as dyslexia; and developmental differences such as autism.
So, in summary, what is happening to our children and to our culture? Why are more and more children diagnosed with medical, emotional, and/or learning disorders? Are the modern advances and conveniences in our culture contributing to weaker minds and bodies? These are very big questions, ones I cannot confirm or deny. But one thing is certain - changes are happening with our children.
As a Speech/Language Pathologist of over 26 years and having practiced in a wide variety of therapeutic settings, Lucy brings to her clients a diversity of patient care knowledge. For the past 12 years, she has specialized her practice in the area of processing disorders and remediation of learning impairments, and she has a passion in seeing her clients succeed in their communicative and learning skills. Lucy now desires to extend the knowledge she has gained in processing and learning remediation to as many children as possible to enable them to reach their full learning and communicative potential in life. To view more of her intervention with children and gain knowledge in how to better assist struggling learners, please visit http://www.learningsolutionsathome.com.