Making Sense of Autistic Spectrum Disorders

A critical review of fact, fiction, and speculation in the field of autism

001 New Kid on the Block

A Developmental Pediatrician discusses autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

Sense and Nonsense in Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Greetings, dear reader!

As the newest blogger in this space, let me introduce myself, and (hopefully) give you reason to return to this spot on a regular basis.

By training, I'm what is known as a "developmental pediatrician." This means that in addition to being trained as a general pediatrician, I completed two years of training learning how to care for children with developmental disorders, such as learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental language disorder, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and autism. I hold sub-specialty certification in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics from the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP), and in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (awarded jointly by the ABP and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology). Presently, I own and operate a solo private practice, in which I evaluate children with developmental delays. Before entering private practice in 2004, I spent 25 years as a medical educator, and a clinical scientist with a focus on early language development - 18 years at the State University of New York, and 7 years at the University of Pennsylvania. I continue to train physicians and nurses from the University of Pennsylvania in my office. You can read more about my professional background here http://www.DrCoplan.com and here: http://www.NDPeds.com

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On a personal note, I am the sibling of an individual with developmental disabilities. This has given me a nearly lifelong insight into the emotional ramifications of having a family member with special needs. Furthermore, being 62 years of age I can remember a time when there was no such thing as Early Intervention or "Free and appropriate public education" for all. On the contrary: when I was a child, exclusion of children with disabilities from public school was commonplace.

It's also important to tell you what I am not: I'm not the vendor of any form of therapy for autistic spectrum disorder (nor, for that matter, am I the recipient of royalties on a vaccine). I don't have a financial dog in the fight. I may have biases, but financial conflict of interest isn't one of them.

As a clinician, scientist and teacher, I have tried to weave the various strands of my life together, helping children with developmental disabilities and their families to move forward, transmitting my skills and perspective to the next generation of healthcare professionals, and doing my small part to create new knowledge in the field.

In this space, we shall take a careful look at autistic spectrum disorder (ASD): What is it, what causes it, and what we can do to help individuals who are affected by it? In the course of this discussion we will tackle questions such as "Are we in an epidemic, and why does it matter?," "Why are there so many different therapies, and how do we know if any of them work as advertised?," and "How do I recognize medical quackery?" We will also take the opportunity, as it arises, to offer our analysis or opinion on relevant items in the news - from the recent decision by Great Britain's Fitness to Practice Panel to revoke Andrew Wakefield's medical license (more on him in a future post), to scientific discoveries that may lead to a deeper understanding and/or new therapeutic approaches to this devastating disorder.

All of my Blog Posts (except for routine "Housekeeping" posts) have been numbered. Before reading through the others, please take a look at post 011-Ground Rules.

If you are impatient to learn more about ASD, or you want to get it faster than what we will cover here in weekly (or so) blog posts, I've written a book on the subject (Making sense of autistic spectrum disorders; Create the brightest future for your child with the best treatment options; Bantam-Dell 2010; http://www.randomhouse.com/author/results.pperl?authorid=79112); the reading list of my book will direct you to still more reading material. Remember that neither this blog nor my book constitute medical advice; for that you need to consult a physician face-to-face.

Next time: What is this thing we call autism? What's the difference between autism and autistic spectrum disorder? And what about Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)? Until then.

 

Dr. James Coplan is a developmental pediatrician, with four decades of experience caring for children with special needs and their families.

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