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Vidant Health recognizes World Autism Day

April 02, 2015 by Amy Holcombe

GREENVILLE- On Thursday, April 2, Vidant Health will shine a light on autism by joining the Light It Up Blue movement, an international effort to commemorate World Autism Day. The light tower at the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital at Vidant Medical Center will turn royal blue to raise awareness about the fastest-growing developmental disorder in the U.S. and the need to improve quality of life for those affected. 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a group of developmental disabilities that affect how a person understands what they see, hear or sense, according to information published by the Autism Society of North Carolina. 

Estimates made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every two years on selected populations of eight year olds indicate that ASD is becoming more prevalent, although it is uncertain how many children in the general population have accurate diagnoses. It is apparent, however, that increasing numbers of children are in need of early, accurate diagnosis and services, according to pediatrician Dr. Michael Reichel, a developmental and behavioral specialist with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and director of ECU’s Family Autism Center. 

“It is often very misunderstood and scary to the public as children with autism cannot seem to connect and/or process their social environment,” said Dr. Marzena Krawiec, a physician with the ECU Brody School of Medicine, and parent of an autistic child. “My Mikey is one of those boys, and we celebrate him each and every day.” 

With the help and support of his physician, teachers, and his specialized therapists, Mikey learns ways to connect with the outside world and have others connect with him. Dr. Krawiec emphasized that autism is not a disease that requires fear, rather understanding and early intervention. 

Christie Kay knows the feeling, too, when learning your child has autism. Kay recalls the day her son, Cullen, was diagnosed with autism. “Our lives changed that day. Our hopes, plans and dreams for our son changed. Our child did not,” she said. “The diagnosis did not change him one bit. He was still my beautiful, red headed, blue-eyed little boy. I was the one who would change.” Cullen, will be “flipping the switch” on Thursday to change the light tower to royal blue.

Reichel explained that there is no medical detection or cure for autism. However, beginning a lifelong learning and intervention process within the first several years of life can optimize a person’s chances to lead a full and meaningful life. 

“Early identification and intervention provides the most positive outcomes,” he said. “That means we need to educate the community as well as other medical providers. We also need to train teachers, school administrators, babysitters, parents and other caregivers or child care providers, because they’re often the first to notice the early signs.”

The goal of the ECU Family Autism Center is to recognize the unique strengths in each of the individuals who require complex systems of care and support, and help them develop the particular skills and strategies they’ll need to master life’s challenges. 

The ECU Physicians Family Autism Center is located at 108-B West Fire Tower Road in Winterville. For more information visit www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/ecuphysicians/locationinfo.cfm?ID=55.
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