?Babies Can't Wait' for help

By Ed Brock

Watching her young son and a friend's daughter playing together was the first sign Wanda Hernandez had that something was wrong.

"I noticed that by age two my son and her daughter were not having the same verbal ability," Hernandez said.

Hernandez, who lives in Jonesboro, would soon learn that her son, now 12, had a form of autism. Over the years following her son's diagnosis Hernandez would become essentially a self-educated expert on Autism Spectrum Disorder, so on Monday when she attended a seminar on ASD sponsored by the "Babies Can't Wait" program she didn't have much else to learn.

But she was glad that others were attending the workshop in the Clayton College & State University Continuing Education Building.

"This is very good for everybody," Hernandez said. "This information is wonderful. All of this not usually available."

Monday's workshop was the second of two held by "Babies Can't Wait," an agency of the Georgia Department of Human Resources that seeks to identify and treat babies from birth to 3 years old with severe developmental problems. There are currently 190 children enrolled in the early intervention program, said Babies Can't Wait Early Intervention Coordinator for Clayton County Nona Lindberg.

Some of the children suffer from Category 1 disorders, Lindberg said, those being disorders that are well known such as ASP.

"And then there are children who are significantly delayed and we don't know what happened," Lindberg said. "We've seen an increase in diagnosis of children with autism."

Attendees at the workshop, including health care workers and others, learned about the signs of autism in young children from Dr. Marshalyn Yeargins and Dr. Cathy Rice with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Those signs include a pattern of behavior dealing primarily with socialization and communication.

They can include delay or total lack of development of spoken language, failure to develop strong peer relationships, stereotyped and repetitive use of language, lack of social and emotional reciprocity or inflexible adherence to specific nonfunctional routines or rituals.

"It doesn't mean the child is weird or odd or dangerous," Yeargins said. "There are a lot of things that people can get concerned about when they don't really understand the condition."

The workshop was also a chance at a reunion for Dr. Ann Reynolds, a graduate of Jonesboro High School and Emory University who is currently working in the Child Development Unit at the Children's Hospital in Denver and the JFK Clinic for Autism and Developmental Disorders. Yeargins, who served as a one-day mentor for Reynolds when Reynolds was about to enter medical school, invited Reynolds to speak at the seminar.

Reynolds is now working with Yeargins on a CDC project to study gastrointestinal and sleeping problems among autistic youth and whether there is a connection between such problems and other problems with the child's nervous system.

"That's one of the things we're going to look at in the CDC study, to see what kinds of symptoms they have and if they have them more frequently than other children," Reynolds said.

Speaking in front of a hometown audience was "different," Reynolds said.

"Even the people I don't know, they know my parents and my brother," Reynolds said.

Her older brother, who suffers from mental retardation, was one inspiration for Reynolds to enter the field she is in and her father, Bob Reynolds, is a former officer in the state and county Association of Retarded Citizens and is a current board member of the Clayton Community Service Board.

For more information on Babies Can't Wait and the symptoms of delayed development call (770) 960-9961.