A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics showed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among children and teens surge 50% from 2017 to 2020. This means that one in 30 kids is diagnosed with the disorder.
The study’s authors did not discuss potential causes for the rise but experts attributed the increase to greater awareness of the condition among parents and doctors.
In Pasadena, the same trend is being observed by local experts.
Chief Clinical Officer Paula Pompa-Craven at Easterseals Southern California, which has a day services center in Pasadena, confirmed the increase of the number of individuals being diagnosed with autism in recent years.
“The incidence of autism spectrum disorder has increased and we are continuing to experience an increase in referrals. They have not slowed down and have actually increased in recent months.” Pompa-Craven said.
According to her, in the past year, referrals for services have increased over 60% in some months.
Although all ages are referred to Easterseals, the highest group fall into the 5-18 year old range, according to Pompa-Craven. Also, there are increased numbers of individuals with dual or multiple diagnoses.
Pompa-Craven believes the surge could be attributed to the “awareness about the symptoms and spectrum of autism.”
“There are more adults coming forward who have learned more about the characteristics of autism and are coming forward for evaluation. Because we do not know of the cause for autism, it is hard to determine what is leading to an increase,” she said.
Easterseals provides therapy and other services for individuals and families living with autism and other disabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.
ASD begins before the age of 3 years and can last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time. People with the condition may “behave, communicate, interact, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.”
As per CDC, some people with ASD may have advanced conversation skills while others may be nonverbal. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives while others can work and live with little to no support.
AnjaLi Carrasco Koester, Director and Occupational Therapist at Pasadena-based Center for Developing Kids, (CDK) which provides therapy services to kids who are at risk for or have a diagnosis of ASD also observed the rising cases in recent years.
“Anecdotally from my understanding is that we seem to be getting more referrals that are incoming with autism,” said Koester.
While the Center for Developing Kids has enough resources to care for those with ASD, Koester believes some kids are not getting services they need.
Among the barriers to receiving services and treatment mentioned by Koester include difficulty accessing services, lack of providers, and the range of costs associated with autism, which makes treatment burdensome for families.
Families also face difficulty finding transportation to and from sessions, added Koester.
“It’s really difficult for them to find transportation to and from sessions. And so there’s so much work. It’s a tremendous amount of time and effort that the caregivers put into just physically getting their child to a clinic, let alone the funding that they have to line up and the logistical paperwork that goes before it. So it’s a lot for families,” said Koester.
Aside from Easterseals and CDK, AbilityFirst is also among the local providers of treatment and intervention services for those with autism and developmental disabilities including cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and others.
Rebecca Haussling, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at AbilityFirst said in 2021, the non-profit had served approximately 1,700 individuals. 42% have a developmental delay 27% have autism 18% have cerebral palsy.
“We encourage children and adults to discover what is important to them in their lives and support them in developing the basic and life skills that are important for them to achieve their personal goals. We do not focus on the type of disability the individuals have but rather we create a welcoming environment where everyone feels they belong and are valued,” Haussling said.
Haussling added that AbilityFirst’s strategy for expanding its programs is not focused on a specific type of disability but rather, accessing the barriers of entry for low-income families, those who come from diverse cultural backgrounds and speak languages other than English.
For more information about AbilityFirst visit: https://www.abilityfirst.org
Information regarding services being offered by Easterseals can be accessed through: easterseals.com/southerncal while services offered by CDK can be viewed through: https://centerfordevelopingkids.com.