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Fairfax: Autism, not 'baby boomers,' biggest future health challenge

The wave of aging "baby boomers" needing public health services in Northern Virginia -- once thought to be the greatest healthcare and fiscal threat facing local governments in the coming decades -- will be far outnumbered by the skyrocketing percentage of young adults with autism diagnoses, Fairfax County human services officials said Tuesday.

According to statistics compiled by the Fairfax County Public Schools, 1 in 83 enrolled students are now diagnosed with some form of autism, an 846 percent growth since 1997.

"That is a niche that's not being covered and those families are struggling," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D).

Pat Harrison, a deputy county executive in Fairfax overseeing human services programs, said the county's 65-and-older population will reach 138,000 by 2020, but that the population of young adults with autism is growing at a far faster rate.

To help, Fairfax is partnering with the state and private agencies to create a pilot day program for young adults with autism. But respite services, reliable transportation, housing and recreation and vocational training programs are in dire need, officials said.

"The autism wave is going to be far more challenging. ... We need to begin to have discussions on how to deal with it now," Harrison said.

Many Northern Virginia communities with high numbers of children have rallied together in recent years and lobbied lawmakers in Richmond to mandate state health benefits for sometimes-pricey autism treatments.

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By Derek Kravitz  |  May 18, 2010; 12:03 PM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County  | Tags: Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County, Fairfax County Public School, Fairfax County Virginia, Northern Virginia, Pat Harrison, United States, Virginia  
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The country, not just Fairfax County, is facing the same tidal wave.

The real tragedy is that evidence is growing that gestational and early childhood vitamin D deficiency is the environmental trigger for autism, as outlined in a recent Scientific American Article. Three Swedish papers were published in March in support of the theory and recently, Professor Kinney and four other Harvard researchers accepted and modified the vitamin D theory in a paper in Medical Hypotheses.

If true, the tragedy is more poignant in that physicians and parents can easily prevent the disease with adequate daily doses of vitamin D.

More importantly, vitamin D’s mechanism of action, which is epigenetic, implies a treatment effect in children already diagnosed.

John Cannell, MD
Vitamin D Council

Glaser G. What If Vitamin D Deficiency Is a Cause of Autism? Sci Amer April 24, 2009.

Fernell E, Barnevik-Olsson M, Bågenholm G, Gillberg C, Gustafsson S, Sääf M. Serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in mothers of Swedish and of Somali origin who have children with and without autism. Acta Paediatr 2010 Mar 5.

Eyles DW. Vitamin D and Autism, Does skin colour modify risk? Acta Paediatr 2010 Mar 8.

Humble MB, Gustafsson S, Bejerot S. Low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) among psychiatric outpatients in Sweden: Relations with season, age, ethnic origin and psychiatric diagnosis. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 Mar 7.

Kinney DK, Barch DH, Chayka B, Napoleon S, Munir KM. Environmental risk factors for autism: do they help cause de novo genetic mutations that contribute to the disorder? Med Hypotheses 2010;74:102-6.

Posted by: jjcannell | May 18, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Keep these comments coming. THIS is the point we have been trying to make in the Virginia legislature only to be rebuffed over and over.
The Virginia Autism Project in partnership with Autism Speaks has proposed insurance reform for autism treatment in Virginia. Intensive early intervention improves the outcomes for people with the diagnosis of autism. Ultimately costing taxpayers less.
To do otherwise is foolhardy and as stated above will cost more than anyone can imagine. Eighteen other states (maybe 20 by this week) have passed this legislation. Let's not be the state that covers erectile dysfunction drugs for state employees but NOT autism treatment and therapy for it's children.

Posted by: teechamp | May 18, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

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