breaking news

More flights to, from South Florida delayed by storm

Identifying, treating autism affects whole family

In the past two decades, autism diagnoses are on the rise — and experts can’t reach a consensus why.

Many believe it’s simply that the definition of what constitutes having the condition — that is, being on the autism “spectrum” — has been greatly expanded.

Others point to various environmental and/or genetic factors that have been exacerbated by modern life.

Still others speculate that increased societal awareness — April 2017 is the 10th annual National Autism Awareness Month — means that fewer “high-functioning” kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) fall through the cracks.

Regardless, “We know a lot more about the condition today than we did in the 1990s,” said Boca Raton therapist Natalia Perez, founder of Florida Family Support ( and a longtime ASD specialist. “We now have many more assessment tools to properly identify ASD children and provide them with the kind of treatment that will help improve their condition.”

No matter where a child is on the spectrum, Perez said ASD affects three areas:

  • Speech
  • Socialization
  • Behavior

When the condition is severe, the characteristics are pronounced — and obvious to the layperson.

“The child is totally non-verbal and won’t make eye contact. Often, they’ll repeat certain words or phrases over and over again and perform a repetitive action like flapping their arms or spinning or rocking,” explained Perez.

But it’s those less obvious cases — the ones of kids who are maybe kind of “quirky” or just don’t know how to “fit in” — but can still function and attend regular school that Perez said are being increasingly identified.

Another aspect of ASD that folks must understand, noted Perez: “It’s never an exclusive diagnosis.”

Rather, the child often will have accompanying conditions such as such as anxiety disorder, depression, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, phobias, seizures, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal disorder and/or obsessive compulsive disorder, among others.

As important as it is to treat the ASD child — which Perez does through a combination of applied behavioral analysis services, UCLA’s acclaimed PEERS program and Children’s Friendship Training — Perez stressed the need to focus on the entire family.

“The divorce rate for parents of ASD children is 80 percent,” Perez said. “Because so much of the family’s time and focus is directed at the ASD child, the marriage — and often the other siblings — are put on the back-burner.”

To combat this tendency, Perez recently launched Family Support Groups — a six-week series of twice-weekly group sessions designed to better train parents/caregivers/siblings in how to help their kids as well as buoy their spirits.

“During our support groups, we focus on providing family support and counseling to ensure they are prepared to handle the stressors and issues that are bound to present themselves,” explained Perez.

Perez schedules the Family Support Groups concurrent to (but in a separate room from) the children’s Social Skills Groups for both convenience and to further reinforce the priority on family.

“We want mom and dad, as well as the sisters, brothers and other relatives to feel as though they’re all in this together.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Community

Is feeding a cold a real thing? 5 winter health myths debunked
Is feeding a cold a real thing? 5 winter health myths debunked

You've probably heard winter health myths for years and you may have even accepted some of them as fact. From being told to bundle up, so you don't catch a cold to your neighbor swearing he got the flu from his flu shot, these myths make the rounds every winter. Mom always warned you you'd get sick if you didn't bundle up before heading out in cold...
Burt Reynolds: The real reason I walk with a cane nowadays
Burt Reynolds: The real reason I walk with a cane nowadays

For those who’ve wondered about actor Burt Reynolds walking with a cane in recent years, he’s got a simple answer for you: It adds style to a senior’s step. “I have no health issues at all now,” Reynolds told “The Desert Sun” newspaper in Palm Springs, Calif. “I have a cane, which I use, not to hold myself...
Artist illustrated President Trump tweets to help “understand him”
Artist illustrated President Trump tweets to help “understand him”

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, cartoonist Shannon Wheeler  was trying to put together a book of his work that had been published in “The New Yorker,” “Mad” magazine and “The Onion.” “But my heart wasn’t in it,” said Wheeler, who said at the time he was still thunderstruck...
Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey's widow files wrongful death lawsuit against New York hospital
Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey's widow files wrongful death lawsuit against New York hospital

The widow of late Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey is suing the New York City hospital that treated her husband before his death in 2016. According to Reuters, Cindy Frey filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Mount Sinai Hospital and gastroenterologist Steven Itzkowitz of negligence while treating the musician, who had ulcerative colitis, in late 2015. >>...
Bouquet dianthus reigns supreme for show and cut flowers
Bouquet dianthus reigns supreme for show and cut flowers

This season has been amazing for those of us who have been growing the Bouquet series of dianthus. The flower power of this dianthus is unmatched in the gardening world. I admit there was a little anxiety with the recent winter storm called Benji. Now Bouquet Purple was a Minnesota Select Perennial Plant of the Year, so we know it has excellent cold-hardiness...
More Stories