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Going BLUE for autism “The world needs all kinds of minds” ~ Temple Grandin

Eric Poole, 6, lives, laughs, loves and learns on the autism spectrum

March 29, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Sunday is Go Blue for Autism Day, and event sponsored by the research and advocacy nonprofit, Autism Speaks. April is Autism Awareness Month.

One in 68 children today is diagnosed with a condition on the autism spectrum.

The author, speaker, and agriculture consultant Temple Grandin is coming to the Lakes Health Conference sponsored by Iowa Lakes Community College Allied Health in June. Grandin, who is on the autism spectrum, said in a TED talk that the world needs all kinds of minds. Gradin said the attention to detail inherent in people with autism has contributed to great strides in technology, innovation, and much more.

Article Photos

Eric Poole, 6, lives with his family in Estherville, and attends kindergarten at Demoney Elementary School. After a day full of sensory experiences, including activities at Iowa Lakes Community College, Eric's energy level is high and ability to wait is low. He chatters while he plays.

"He's running through an entire episode of 'Blue's Clues' word for word," Eric's mother, Jennifer Poole, a math and physics teacher at Estherville Lincoln Central High School, said.

Jennifer said Eric was diagnosed last year during preschool. Jennifer and her husband, Tom, became concerned about verbal delays with Eric and turned to experts for a diagnosis. The Area Education Association (AEA) team specialists diagnosed Eric with autism under an educational diagnostic process. There is also a medical diagnostic process. The Pooles will take Eric to specialists at the University of Iowa for this part. The two processes serve different purposes in helping a person on the autism spectrum achieve the best possible life, beyond their limitations. See fact box for more information on diagnosing autism.

Fact Box

Diagnosing autism in 2017

In the olden days, prior to 2013, autism was noted as high functioning and low functioning. There was a separate, but related diagnosis of Asperger's disorder, and one which encompassed more than one developmental delay, called PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified). There was sensory processing disorder, and a lot of co-occurring illnesses common to people on the autism spectrum, including attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, depressive disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder.

The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published and revised periodically by the American Psychiatric Association), which came out in 2013, cut out a lot of the different labels and made it as easy as 1, 2, 3. Sort of.

The three levels are helpful to identify the person with autism as a person who needs support rather than measuring their functioning as if they are a machine.

A person identified as level three requires a substantial amount of support. A person at level 3 on the spectrum may have very few words of meaningful speech and limited social interaction, with minimal response to overtures from others.

A person at level 2 also needs substantial supports with impairment obvious even with support in place, and reduced response to social address from others.

A person at level 1 might not appear to have any impairment in casual public observance, but without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. Some people at level 1 have failures in attempts at conversation with others, or they may do fine at home but need support at school or work.

Autism Speaks offers five video simulations to help you experience sensory overload, a common issue for people with autism:

According to Autism Speaks, there is no one cause of autism. Researchers suspect autism spectrum disorders come from a combination of genetic and nongenetic or environmental factors. Brain imaging of people with autism suggests there is a difference in how certain neurons communicate with one another, but there is no one cause or red flag. A 1997 study by a British researcher suggesting immunizations were a cause of autism was discredited and the researcher accused of purposely skewing his results. Today there is much evidence pointing to a lack of risk for autism from immunizations.

"Every person with autism is different from others with autism," said Jennifer.

While Eric is very young, people on the autism spectrum learn ways to cope with the sensory overload and the ways in which their brains are wired differently from those of people who do not have an autism spectrum diagnosis.

"It can be an invisible disorder," Jennifer said. "Often he seems like a regular kid."

At other times, sensory overload and other triggers can cause Eric to become upset.

"Kids are intuitive. Kids in his class have learned to avoid some of Eric's triggers," said Jennifer. She said on at least one occasion, a classmate has tried to help. One girl brought Eric's white board and marker to him so he could write the alphabet over and over, a comfort activity.

"I thought that was so sweet and kind," Jennifer said.

Jennifer said it feels like autism still comes with a stigma. "You're not going to offend us by asking questions or asking if we need a hand if it seems like Eric is having a rough day," Jennifer said.

"It's also okay to talk to other kids about it," Jennifer said.

Tom Poole said, "Autism has become mainstream. It shouldn't be politically incorrect to talk about it."

Autism has become prominent in child pop culture this year, too. Children's Television Workshop's perennial show "Sesame Street" has added a muppet named Julia who is on the autism spectrum. Billy, the blue Power Ranger has also gone blue, revealing he has autism.

When asked how the community can show more awareness, which in practice is really empathy, toward people on the autism spectrum, Jennifer said, "Don't make assumptions about what they can and cannot do."

A school and community with flexibility for Eric to grow in is vital. Jennifer said, "In a small community there are not always resources like in the big city. Jennifer would like to see a support group for parents and family members with autism, and events like showings of children's movies with fewer sensory issues, such as leaving the lights on, turning the sound down, and tolerating a bit of chatter.

Autism Awareness Month continues through April, with events around the nation and world.



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