Back in the 1980s about one in every 10,000 kids was diagnosed with autism. Now-a-days one in every 166 kids is autistic. Doctors and researchers have no clear cause for the jump from mercury levels in immunization shots, to genetics, to better diagnosis, there are a variety of theories. But one thing is clear, the problem is not going away and many in our community say the time is now to start addressing the issue.
When we first met autistic twins Nick and Zach Dudeck last year they were non-verbal. Not the case today; both Nick and Zack have made significant progress. They're talking, socializing and taking part in regular kindergarten classes.
"Even their teachers have said, 'what a difference.' They are really amazing kids and we firmly believe it's because of this program we do," said their mom Amber.
Amber supplements school lessons with at home lessons. She has a tutor come into her home everyday to repeat what the boys learn in class.
"Doing schedules and repetition is going to mainstream these boys into society quicker than anything else."
Autism experts in the Rockford Public Schools agree. They see a much greater success rate for kids whose parents incorporate classroom lessons in the home. The problem is the resources to do what Amber does are extremely limited.
"It would be wonderful if there was a consulting service in our community that could go into the home and set up systems like the schools within the home environment," says Sarah Gray of the Rockford School’s Autism Advisory Team.
It might be wonderful, but it sure would take a lot of money. Yet Grey argues it's something our community, our state, our nation should invest in; she says 90 percent of autism students now are not working after finishing school and that will eventually cost all of us money.
"If we could start addressing some of those needs earlier on, the home as well as increasing resources to our schools, then we might see less need for continued funding by our taxpayers," said Gray.
"The burden of cost is all on the parents, but it is so important because it will lesson the burden later for governments and society if we do it now while they're young," adds Dudeck.
Illinois legislators are currently considering an additional $1 million annually in state funding for autism programs. That money could mean more resources for our area.