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Keen on Kids - Spanning the Autism Spectrum: National Autism Awareness Month

April 18, 2011, Wheaton, IL – Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopment disorder that alters how nerve cells and their synapses connect, thereby affected the way the brain transmits information. ASD is diagnosed usually by the age of 3. According to the Center for Disease Control, experts estimate that 1 out of 110 children are diagnosed with ASD – with an overwhelming prevalence of the disorder occurring in boys at a rate of nearly 1 in every 70 male children being affected.

“April is National Autism Awareness Month and allows us to shine a light on this important disorder that is affecting so many of our kids with symptoms that carry on into their adulthood,” notes Dr. Mary Keen, Medical Director of Pediatric Rehabilitation, who is board-certified in neuro-developmental disabilities. “Generally speaking, Autism results from irregularities or abnormalities in function or structure of the brain and research shows that environmental factors and genetics may play a role in its occurrence. Though the experts agree that there is no concrete single cause, we do agree that the sooner parents, teachers, and physicians recognize the symptoms and a child is diagnosed, the better chance of improvement through available treatment options.”

Symptoms of Autism can vary greatly but common signs include a lack of or a delay in spoken language or difficulty in communicating altogether, repetitive behaviors, such as obsessively lining up objects in a row or performing tasks over and over,  unusual responses to sensory stimulation, and especially  difficulty in initiating or maintaining peer relationships. While there is currently no cure, Autism is treatable.

“There are a variety of treatments available and early intervention can greatly reduce problem behaviors and issues,” explains Keen. “For example at Marianjoy, our speech therapists work with autistic children’s communication skills so they can better express their needs, wants, and ideas. Our occupational therapists work to help autistic children organize the sights, sounds, and movements they encounter and help them regulate their responses, while our physical therapists help the kids coordinate movements so they can successfully and safely negotiate their environment and participate in activities.”

In addition, Marianjoy’s Medical Library has recently launched a new website,, especially for parents of children with developmental disabilities and chronic diseases. Through a grant from the National Library of Medicine, the site provides centralized access to up-to-date, reliable, high-quality health information resources with a special focus on Autism, Cerebral Palsy, ADHD, Down syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury.


“Education and family involvement are both critical in treating autism,” notes Keen. “There is a very large autism community, through websites, support groups, and national and local organizations, where practitioners, physicians, and parents can share resources and experiences. Together we can make a difference in treating and understanding Autism.”

For more information on Marianjoy’s pediatric program, please call 630-909-7155 or click here.

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About Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital

Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital is a nonprofit teaching hospital in Wheaton, Illinois, dedicated to the delivery of physical medicine and rehabilitation programs including stroke, neuromuscular, orthopedic, brain injury, spinal cord injury, and pediatrics. Marianjoy’s $60 million, 120 private room replacement hospital is a state-of-the-art facility designed to enhance the naturally holistic approach to rehabilitation. Founded in 1972, Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital maintains an extensive network of inpatient, subacute, and outpatient sites and physician clinics throughout the Chicago area. Marianjoy is a member of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.