Brittany Reiger and her husband have three autistic children. They were on FOX 29 this morning. Brittany is a very, very well spoken, forward thinking mother, not at all like her three autistic children who almost don’t speak, – one of the characteristics of autism. Brittany has thought far ahead for her children wondering how they will do in school and when they are married but perhaps still in the grip of autism. How will the other kids treat her children? She’s seen how people react when they are shopping and the kids are running around more than the non-autistic kids. It’s upsetting to others but the autistic children don’t respond well to their parents concerns about their behaviors.

Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood. Globally, autism is estimated to affect 21.7 million people as of 2013. The number of people affected is estimated at about 1 or 2 per 1,000, worldwide. It occurs four to five times more often in boys than girls. About 1.5% of children in the United States (one in 68) are diagnosed with ASD as of 2014.

Dustin Hoffman was brilliant playing an autistic adult in RAIN MAN. Tears came from the actor when discussing his experience making his other Oscar-winning film, Rain Man with director Barry Levinson. Hoffman described how, two weeks into shooting, he was wishing he could leave the movie because he just couldn’t play the part of the autistic brother Raymond Babbitt.

Levinson took him aside to watch the rushes because, unbeknownst to Hoffman, the actor had created the essence of the character by just repeating “yeah” to everything “Rain Man”, his friend “Raymond”, was saying to him.

Hoffman described his extensive research into highly functioning autism sufferers saying he came to the conclusion they are unable to rid themselves of all the information a human is presented with.

“It puts enormous pressure on them. We’re like vacuum cleaners, we can get rid of a lot of it but they can’t.”

Brittany is a high functioning adult. As a child she did just about everything a young girl in a loving family did. School, dance classes, recitals, the warm, bubbly socially successful existence of a young girl living in a beautiful world. There were no clues, no idea of her future world limited to taking care of three beautiful, autistic children.

Autistic toddlers differ more strikingly from social norms; for example, they have less eye contact and turn-taking, and do not have the ability to use simple movements to express themselves, such as pointing at things.[26] Three- to five-year-old children with autism are less likely to exhibit social understanding, approach others spontaneously, imitate and respond to emotions, communicate nonverbally, and take turns with others. However, they do form attachments to their primary caregivers.[27] Most children with autism display moderately less attachment security than neurotypical children, although this difference disappears in children with higher mental development or less severe ASD.[28] Older children and adults with ASD perform worse on tests of face and emotion recognition[29] although this may be partly due to a lower ability to define a person’s own emotions.[30]

Children with high-functioning autism suffer from more intense and frequent loneliness compared to non-autistic peers, despite the common belief that children with autism prefer to be alone. Making and maintaining friendships often proves to be difficult for those with autism. For them, the quality of friendships, not the number of friends, predicts how lonely they feel. Functional friendships, such as those resulting in invitations to parties, may affect the quality of life more deeply.[31]

There are many anecdotal reports, but few systematic studies, of aggression and violence in individuals with ASD. The limited data suggest that, in children with intellectual disability, autism is associated with aggression, destruction of property, and tantrums.
A substantial fraction of autism cases may be traceable to genetic causes that are highly heritable but not inherited: that is, the mutation that causes the autism is not present in the parental genome.

Autism does not have a clear unifying mechanism at either the molecular, cellular, or systems level; it is not known whether autism is a few disorders caused by mutations converging on a few common molecular pathways, or is (like intellectual disability) a large set of disorders with diverse mechanisms. It does however make parenting a more than full time job as the parents of autistic children constantly worry about tomorrow and the future that lies ahead but tantalizingly beyond reach.

Barry and Suzi Kaufman had a third child, Raun. When Raun was 17 months old, the Kaufmans decided to try to break through his autistic shell themselves by “totally accepting him,” and bombarding him with love and attention. For three months Suzi spent a grueling 70 hours or more a week locked alone with Raun in their downstairs bathroom, the least distracting room in their house. “It was incredible at first,” Barry says. “I’d come home at night and say, ‘Hey, babes, what happened today?’ And Suzi would say, ‘We rocked’ or maybe ‘We spun.’ Never once did Raun look at her.”

Their two daughters—Bryn, now 9, and Thea, 6—joined in the intensive playtime therapy, and the Kaufmans also hired and trained a half-dozen students to work with Raun in shifts. On the 11th day in the bathroom, Suzi at last achieved eye contact with Raun. In the 19th week of the program the seven syllables Raun was capable of uttering exploded into a vocabulary of 75 words. Doctors were astounded to discover in tests that in just four months Raun’s learning ability had spurted ahead from 16 to 26 months. His progress continued and now, to all appearances, Raun is more energetic and outgoing than most 3-year-olds. He spells as well as a first-grader and delights in teasing adults with preschool cracks like “See you later, alligator.”

Raun still shows occasional symptoms of autism, and the Kaufmans continue to work with him 40 hours a week. “Not to make him supersmart,” Suzi explains, “but to exercise his mind.” Barry adds, “I can’t speculate on Raun’s future. But we’ll accept him no matter how he turns out. The one thing Raun taught us is that there is no such thing as hopelessness.”

Hope and change are human attributes. Here’s hoping the three beautiful toddlers of Brittany Reiger change as Ruan Kaufman did.

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