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Understanding autism

User: Sam Hames / Flickr

This week we’ll be taking a closer look at autism.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that about 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism or a related disorder – a significant increase in diagnosis.

Dr. Richard Solomon is a Medical Director of the P.L.A.Y Project at The Ann Arbor Center of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Dr. Solomon says there are three factors to consider when defining autism, "One, you have a delay in language. Two, these are children that don't interact very well, they tend to want to be by themselves. And three, when they are by themselves they tend to have a lot of repetitive stereotyped behaviors that absorb them and take them out of social circulation."

He says the autism spectrum is very broad and therefore might be one of the reasons why it's on the rise.

According to Dr. Solomon there are two main causes for autism - genetics and environment. "And by environment I mean poisoning by toxins in the womb. Not immunizations, not exposures to diet, not mercury after you are born, but primarily in the womb, exposure to toxins may be contributing significantly to autism."

"It's very worrisome and they haven't found the specific toxins that contribute to autism yet, but there is a general consensus... if you have a genetic tendency and  you have this environmental exposure, then that's likely to contribute," he says.

Dr. Solomon created the P.L.A.Y. Project. It teaches parents to be fun and interactive with their children.

"And our basic philosophy in the P.LA.Y. Project is that when you do what the child loves, then the child will love being with you. And that's one of the core deficits in autism, social isolation, so now here you have a child that looks at you and says, 'Mom and Dad you're fun, I'm going to play with you' so now you've got initiation, and social interaction."

Dr. Solomon says for parents it can be scary to find out their child is autistic, but he says, "A child with autism can make extraordinary progress...you need to put in time of engagement, it's  probably one of the single most important factor to helping your child get better."

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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