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Autism Awareness Month in NM: Resources Needed for Schools and Families

April 19, 2010

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - April is Autism Awareness Month in New Mexico and nationwide. According to the most recent data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of one out of 110 children have an autism spectrum disorder, up from a previous count of one out of 150. Parents and schools both can be overwhelmed by the increased need for support in dealing with the disorder.

Martha Benavidez is a parent of a child with an autism disorder, and she also teaches kindergarten in Las Cruces. She says early diagnosis is key to getting the right kind of help, so she urges parents and doctors to become more familiar with the first signs of autism.

"If you think something's wrong, go with your parental instincts, because it's just not as recognizable as people think."

Often the earliest signs of autism have to do with speech and language difficulties, or the child is just not talking. Benavidez says it's common for pediatricians to tell parents to wait it out because children develop at different rates. However, if parents are worried that something may be abnormal, she says it doesn't hurt to seek out someone to do a professional autism screening.

The increase in the rate of autism has led to an increased demand for speech and language professionals in New Mexico schools, Benavidez warns.

"We're running out of speech and language pathologists, especially if they're bilingual; we don't have very many. In New Mexico we have many bilingual autistic children who are not getting service."

Benavidez would like to see more support groups formed in school districts across the state for parents of students with autism.

More information is available at www.cdc.gov.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM