At sell-out national autism conferences this year, the star has been Temple Grandin, an author and animal scientist. A recent HBO-movie about her life was an Emmy-award winner, and she landed on TIME magazine's list of this year's most influential people.
Here's how Grandin and others are pushing the dark mystery of autism into the spotlight to get early help for children:
When Grandin was diagnosed at age 3 with autism in the early 1950s, information and hope were minimal.
As with Grandin, the complex developmental disability typically involves a range of delays and impairment in social skills, language and behavior.
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"Every child is different as far as sensory difficulties," Grandin says on a new documentary about one mother's treatment journey with her 11-year-old son, who is severely autistic. "One sense learns better than the others."
For Grandin, a pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock, that clear sense is visual. She thinks in pictures to process information, whereas others with autism may have visual processing problems, for example, and learn better through their sense of hearing.
The Emmy-award winning HBO movie about her life, "Temple Grandin," gives a look into her unusual pattern of thinking, her battles against sensory overload and her struggle with social skills. The film is now available on DVD. The Autism Research Institute, at www.autism.com, was among sources of information for the movie.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 110 children has symptoms somewhere on the autism spectrum - from mild and high-functioning to severe. Boys outnumber girls 4 to 1. Typically, the earlier a child is treated, the better the prognosis will be.
Beyond the HBO movie, a more practical resource is Grandin's book, "The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's" (Future Horizons, 2008). The book's overall philosophy: Small steps and one-on-one teaching can work. Doing nothing is the worst thing of all.
The company that published "The Way I See It," Future Horizons, was created to meet the needs of parents, therapists and teachers facing challenges of autism. More information on the company's books, videos and conferences is available on the company's website at www.fhautism.com.
A new documentary for sale on DVD is "A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism," produced by Frontier Filmworks. It includes interviews with Grandin, several autism researchers and families touched by autism. For more information, go to www.amotherscourage.org.
For more information, go to www.autism-society.org to contact the local chapter of the Autism Society of America in your area. Seek out resources, treatment options and contact numbers in your area and throughout your state.
Signs of autism
The Autism Society lists these early signs of autism:
A lack of or delay in spoken language.
Repetitive use of language or mannerisms, such as twirling objects or hand-flapping that children use to calm themselves down.
Little or no eye contact.
Lack of interest in peer relationships.
Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play.
Fixation on parties of objects.