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Raising autism awareness

September 17, 2012
By KURT HAUGLIE - DMG writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Chrissy Harkola appreciated having the first Copper Country Autism Awareness Family Fun Day Saturday for her 5-year-old son, Alex.

"I thought it was wonderful," she said. "Kids with autism don't get out a lot."

Harkola said Alex, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old, was having a good time playing games with his 3-year-old brother, Langdon, in the Houghton Elementary School gymnasium.

Article Photos

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Chrissy Harkola of Tamarack City assists her 5-year-old son, Alex, as he works his way up a climbing wall Saturday at the Houghton Elementary School gymnasium during the first Copper Country Autism Awareness Family Fun Day. The event was intended as a way to give parents and their autistic children a way to have fun without worrying about possible emotional outbursts.

Although Alex can have occasional "meltdowns" in public, Harkola said for the most part that's not a problem.

"He tolerates crowds well," she said.

Kathe Lanctot, one of the founders of Copper Country Autism Awareness, said she was very pleased with the number of people attending the inaugural Family Fun Day.

"It's our dream come true," she said. "We're happy with the turnout."

Also at the Family Fun Day was Dr. Bonnie Hafeman, who was providing information about the various forms of the condition.

There are four conditions on the autism spectrum, Hafeman said, including Asperger's Syndrome, which is the mildest form, Rett Syndrome, Autistic Disorder and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, which is rare with only 2 per 100,000 children developing it. With CDD, a child develops normally until 3 or 4 years old, then loses speech, motor skills and other developmental features.

Autism is not retardation, Hafeman said, but an autistic child can also be developmentally challenged.

There are also autism look-alike disorders, which aren't autism, Hafeman said.

Autism isn't curable and doesn't go away on its own, so there are many adults with the condition, also.

"Most of them are leading independent lives," she said.

Hafeman was also giving information on diet and autism, particularly establishing a gluten- and casein-free diet for their children. Those two components have been shown to affect the opioid receptors in the brain, causing behavioral problems in some children.

"A lot of parents are using (diet) for behavior control," she said. "It won't cure autism, but it will provide better behavior."

Lanctot said the parents attending the event seemed to be enjoying it.

"We've had nothing but exceptional comments," she said.



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