April is Autism Awareness Month, and as most of you know, this is an issue very near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons.
Autism affects one out of every 100 children in the United States. That means that out of the 4 million children born in the U.S. every year, approximately 40,000 will eventually be diagnosed with an Autism spectrum disorder.
As an OBGYN, it is my job to deliver babies for a living. By now, I've delivered well over 100 children in my lifetime, but it still surprises me when I hear that one of those children has autism.
There are different methods of delivering babies, of course - some are vaginal deliveries, some Caesarean section - but I've never been able to find a common theme that would lead me to believe that autism would be present after birth.
Autism is an issue that really hits home with me, because in my own family, I have three beautiful children - one of whom is autistic. I diagnosed my son Ryan myself when he was just 2 years old, and my suspicions were later confirmed by the developmental pediatricians I took him to see in New York City.
By the time Ryan was three, he could not speak or concentrate for long periods of time. Researchers say it's because the brain of an autistic child devotes more resources to visual processing areas - leaving less resources for the parts of the brain dedicated to decision making, cognitive control, planning and execution.
Over the years, I've found that there are a lot of theories, myths, and flat-out lies about autism floating around. Despite how common it is, there are still plenty of people who don't know much about the disorder, and so many unanswered questions leaving parents to search for their own.
There's no doubt having a child on the autism spectrum represents tremendous challenges for both the children and their parents, but in my experience, it has also brought me closer to my family and has given me an appreciation for the wonder behind how the human brain develops, and the uniqueness of each child afflicted by the disorder.
But what I know is that today, at the age of 13, Ryan speaks two languages fluently, and I'm confident he will develop into a beautiful young man, full of enthusiasm and drive, thanks to early childhood intervention.
As I said before, there are still many unanswered questions about what causes autism and other developmental disorders on the spectrum. And while I'm encouraged by the recent surge of studies and attention given to autism, it is vital that we continue to research and educate ourselves in the hopes that we may better understand the challenges that these children and their families continue to face with each passing day.