Autism Awareness Highlights: Healthcare Obstacles
Childhood is a crucial time for promoting healthy social and emotional development. Healthcare for children rests on a foundation of monitoring a child’s overall health and developmental progress while also identifying any problems or delays and intervening before they become too serious. For children with autism, perils can lie even before intervention. Early identification of autism is important. Diagnostic evaluation performed by trained professionals, usually psychologists, psychiatrists and developmental pediatricians, is essential. However, family accessibility to these professionals is often limited based on their community and income. Because effective intervention with this population strongly relies on “the sooner the better” approach, these limitations carry significant weight for children on the autism spectrum. As a mental health professional working in a community where families encounter barriers to treatment on a daily basis, I see the potential for integrated health and primary care settings, like those found at Valley Health, to help families overcome obstacles.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. It is characterized by delays and impairment in social skills, language and behavior. The diagnosis of autism denotes that there are neurological differences within the individual that affect how the individual thinks, feels and reacts. However, it affects each person differently. This is why autism is labeled a spectrum disorder. One child may have a particular symptom while another may not. Symptoms can be identified by a number of professionals. An evaluation is a critical step in accounting for these different variations in symptoms to provide an accurate diagnosis. While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and educational approaches that can address the challenges associated with the condition. Behavior and communication approaches, such as individual and group psychotherapy, applied behavior analysis, speech therapy and occupational therapy can all help to lessen disruptive behaviors, improve social skills, develop functional speech and address sensory sensitivities. Educational approaches can teach self-help skills for greater independence, as well as new methods of learning that fit these children’s unique set of skills and personality. Medication can also be a treatment option; however, it is important to know that medication alone is not a treatment for autism but an aid to better functioning.
Receiving a diagnosis of autism can be overwhelming for some families and a relief to others. These emotions can range from grief to panic, to even relief for finally having an explanation for a child’s behaviors. Whatever the strong emotions may be, they often serve as motivation for parents to find the effective help their children need. I believe continuing to integrate healthcare services with mental health professionals captures the motivation and turns it into a positive outcome for these children and their families. The most important point I make to all my patients and their families, is that children with autism have the potential to grow and develop into healthy, happy adults. Diagnosis is not necessarily an indicator of prognosis. Even delayed treatment can still result in positive impacts on quality of life.
So what happens when a family seeks services for their child? The obstacle that many face is gaining awareness of and finding effective services that can provide the assistance these children need. According to the 2018 Center for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, the last estimate is now one in 59 children have been identified with having autism. Therefore, barriers to services could only potentially grow as we move into the future. However, primary care can play a key role in furthering access to mental health treatment. Families in communities where access to multiple professionals and specialized services is limited often first seek help for mental health or other specific issues with their primary care physician.
We know children with autism often benefit greatly from having a range of services. With primary care centers incorporating other disciplines such as mental health, the answer to finding these services is apparent. Primary care providers are now more aware of mental health issues, screeners and follow-up care. Patients often find it less stigmatizing and more comforting to follow up with other professionals who are at the same site or in direct contact with their primary care provider. These facilities also provide reduced costs, increased identification and holistic care of mental health issues, and improved outcomes. Therefore, as autism awareness continues to grow, this form of healthcare becomes more and more crucial, in my opinion, in helping all families have the opportunity to take all steps necessary for their children to grow and improve.
About the Author
Dr. David Oxley, Psy.D., is a graduate of Marshall University’s Doctorate of Clinical Psychology Program. He is a licensed psychologist in the States of West Virginia and Maryland. He received his post-doctoral training in Baltimore, Maryland, through Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital’s Autism Clinic. Dr. Oxley is currently employed by Valley Health Systems and sees patients at their Hurricane and Huntington locations. For further information about autism and how Dr. Oxley can support and coordinate diagnostic and treatment needs, please call (304) 760-6040.
Protect Young Skin from Sun Damage
“The sun does not shine for a few trees and flowers, but for the wide world’s joy.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
After a long, frigid winter that hung on far too long, we can finally relax and enjoy the warmth of summer. Swimming, playing sports, picnicking, attending festivals and musical events, going to the park, boating – all are fun things we like to do in the summer with family and friends.
Yet, even as families rush from one pursuit to another, don’t forget to take care of something really important – your skin – and especially, the tender skin of children.
Just a few serious sunburns early in life can greatly increase a child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
While the sun brings light and warmth that we enjoy, keep in mind there are two kinds of rays being emitted – UVA and UVB. What’s the difference? UVA is the kind that penetrates deeply into the skin and causes wrinkles, fine lines, sagging skin and brown spots. UVB causes burns and tans. Over time, exposure to both rays causes skin cancer and cataracts.
- Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin color.
- Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with melanoma rates doubling from 1982 to 2011.
- Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
To protect the children in your life and teach them good habits, follow these tips – not only at the beach, pool or on vacation, but whenever kids are heading outside. It’s always better to prevent sunburn rather than to suffer the consequences after it’s happened.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. This is known as “broad-spectrum” sun protection. Throw out your leftover products from last year, and purchase new sunscreen to ensure that the active ingredients work as intended. Remember, sunscreen should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before going out to allow for maximum absorption. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, the back of the neck and the tops of the feet.
Today’s products are a vast improvement over the past, when they tended to be chalky or oily, thick and left a visible residue on the skin. Sunscreen is available as a spray, a roll-on stick, a cream or traditional lotion. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your child’s skin reacts badly to one product, try another. There are lightweight or clear options formulated without irritants such as synthetic dyes or fragrances. Some products provide waterproof or water-resistant protection.
Take sunscreen with you to reapply every few hours, especially after your child swims or exercises. This applies to waterproof and water-resistant products as well.
As a rule, infants and toddlers should mostly be kept out of the sun. Follow the directions on the package for using a sunscreen product on babies less than six months old.
The sun’s rays are strongest and most harmful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Therefore, it’s best to be outdoors in the early morning or late afternoon. If you’re out in the middle of the day, seek shade under trees, an umbrella, or a pop-up tent.
When possible, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and skirts can provide protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Clothing manufactured with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) is available from many different sources. Tightly woven fabric offers the best cover.
Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears and neck are another way to protect vulnerable areas. Baseball caps are popular among kids, but they don’t protect the ears and neck. Any exposed skin should be covered with sunscreen.
Sunglasses come in many colors and styles and are a great way to protect the highly sensitive skin around the eyes, and the eyes themselves, from UV rays, which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap around the face and block both UVA and UVB rays.
Unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes. But the effects may not show for up to 12 hours. So, if your child’s skin looks “a little pink” today, it may look burned the next morning. Take notice of how your child’s skin looks when you’re outside and if it starts appearing pink or flushed, it’s time to get your child out of the sun.
Cloudy Days Still Pose a Risk
Even on cool, cloudy days, the skin still needs protection. It is the UV rays, not the temperature that does the damage. UV rays go right through the clouds.
Teens and Tanning Beds
Contrary to popular belief that tans are healthy and attractive – tanning is actually damaging the skin. People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 (even once) increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. Tanning beds expose the skin to harmful, unnaturally intense UV rays. Damage adds up over time and contributes to overall aging and skin cancer. Melanoma is being seen more commonly in women in their early 20s, with much of it being attributed to tanning bed use. The advice from most physicians – don’t use tanning beds and certainly don’t allow teens to use them.
So, take all necessary precautions to protect young skin while you’re out and about this summer.
Valley Health Supports Vaccines for Children Program
In addition to new clothes, shoes and supplies, school readiness also involves getting children vaccinated. Valley Health is here to help parents, grandparents and other caregivers get children up to date on their required vaccines prior to the start of school.
Valley Health locations are part of the West Virginia and Ohio Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program, which ensures that all children in our service area have the opportunity to receive their recommended vaccinations on schedule, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. Vaccinations protect babies, young children and adolescents from 16 diseases.
All vaccines under the VFC program are free to qualifying children, although other fees may apply. To qualify, children must be younger than 19 years of age and Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or underinsured.
Now is the perfect time for parents to ensure that their children’s immunizations are in check. West Virginia law requires that all children enrolled in a public, private or parochial school in the state, or at a state-regulated child care center, be appropriately immunized prior to admission. In particular, children entering Pre-K, Kindergarten, second grade, seventh grade and twelfth grade will need to have their vaccinations up to date before school starts in the fall. Ohio has very similar requirements for students entering Kindergarten, seventh and twelfth grades.
Parents of infants should also ensure that their babies are immunized. Following the recommended immunization schedule protects infants and children by providing immunity early in life, before they come into contact with potentially life-threatening diseases.
Some adults have concerns about the safety of vaccines and about the number of shots that may be given to a child during one doctor’s visit. Healthcare providers, like Valley Health, have confidence and trust that vaccines are safe and effective. Research and constant monitoring have generated data to show vaccines are highly protective against serious diseases, and any side effects are mild and rare. Three or four shots given to a baby may seem a lot, but it adds up to protection against more than a dozen diseases and contains fewer antigens than what a baby encounters every day in normal exposure to the world.
For more information about the VFC program or to make an appointment to update your child’s immunizations, please call your neighborhood Valley Health center.