Beautiful minds, wasted – The Economist highlights autism

autism cover the economist sized

The April 16, 2016 issue of The Economist has a cover story addressing autism entitled, “Beautiful minds, wasted, How to deal with autism”. The Economist is an important magazine, published in the UK with a print circulation of just over 1.5 million, making this an important source of information for both the community and the general public.

The article dealt with a number of interesting topics including the growing prevalence of autism – particularly in the developed world, changing diagnoses of autism, integrating autistic children in regular schools as well as integrating older individuals into the workplace. Of particular interest was their use of real people and real stories to help bring the article to life.

However, what struck us most, was the discussion of early diagnosis and early intervention with very young children. According to the article, Researchers believe that autism begins developing early in life, perhaps in the womb”. Because there is no objective test for autism, diagnosis must be made by observing the child’s behavior. Does the baby respond to his name? Does he make eye contact? Has he begun speaking? Does he repeat actions over and over? Observations such as these allow doctors to diagnose autism in children as young as 2 years old, but sadly, the average age at which kids are diagnosed in the developed world is 3.5 and even older in less developed countries.

According to Dr. Stapel-Wax, this gives autism “too much time to advance”. Children are voracious learners in their first 2 years as they watch and listen to the people around them, learning the beginnings of language and social skills. However autistic kids tend to relate more closely to inanimate objects, limiting their ability to develop social skills and learn from their environment. Dr. Stapel-Wax concluded that autism is a, “social disability that develops so quickly it can become an intellectual disability”.

The article goes on to state that, “Autism can be treated, particularly if it is caught early. Intensive coaching from a young age can help alleviate the symptoms”. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists work one-on-one with the children evaluating and developing their verbal and social skills and rewarding progress to provide positive feedback.

Results are becoming more encouraging. A 2015 study in Washington State found that children between the ages of 18 and 30 months following the “Early-start Denver Model” -which combines play with more traditional ABA interventions – had less intense symptoms by the time they turned 6.

Early intervention also has other societal rewards, according to The Economist. A Swedish study found that, “the cost of lifelong care for someone with autism could be cut by two-thirds with early diagnosis and treatment”.

While we found the section of the article dealing with early intervention the most interesting, we would highly recommend that you have a look at the entire article. We’re sure that you will find it interesting!