Westlake mom will discuss journey with her now-grown autistic son
Ryan Hinds, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, is now 27, an engineer with an aerospace company and an avid surfer.
By Adrienne Wigdortz Anderson, Special to The Star
When Marcia Hinds and her husband Frank were UCLA undergrads, they participated in a project helping autistic children. Yet, years later, the Westlake Village couple missed the signs of the disorder in their son, rationalizing his odd behaviors.
Whereas his older sister was affectionate, Ryan was remote and rarely looked into his parents' eyes.
"He didn't cry; he shrieked," Marcia Hinds recalled. "He plugged and unplugged a radio and seemed transfixed by hooks in his closet."
Ryan was 4 when he was diagnosed with autism. At the time, the family lived near Minneapolis and consulted the area's foremost expert. Her prognosis: The boy probably would need institutionalization.
But today, Ryan, 27, is an engineer with an aerospace company. Self-confident with friends, he's also an avid surfer.
Hinds recounts Ryan's story in her book "I Know You're in There — Winning Our War Against Autism." To mark Autism Awareness Month, the author and motivational speaker will speak at the Oak Park Library on Sunday.
"I want parents to know they aren't alone," Hinds explained, noting that she understands first-hand the despair many often feel.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability characterized by repetitive and restrictive behaviors and impaired social and communication skills. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. The disorder is nearly five times more common in boys than girls.
Possible red flags, according to the Autism Society, include a child not making contact, not enjoying cuddling or being held, not smiling in response to a parent's smile, not responding to his or her name, not babbling or cooing, not gesturing or pointing, not reaching out to be picked up and not saying single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by 24 months.
Early diagnosis and intervention is important for better outcomes, Hinds said, although intervention at any age is beneficial.
"Being in denial can waste valuable time," she noted.
The Hinds family went from doctor to doctor searching for answers. Then, Hinds read a letter in the Autism Society newsletter from a Simi Valley mother who reported that her child had talked for the first time after medical treatment from a Los Angeles pediatrician. The family scheduled an appointment with the doctor, flew to California and took a critical step in the difficult journey to Ryan's improvement.
There's no consensus on causes or therapies, but Hinds thinks autism is treatable.
Based on Ryan's experience, she believes autism isn't a mental disorder but rather a medical condition caused, in part, by a dysfunctional immune system. While no one approach can help all children, treating autism medically, in conjunction with behavioral therapy and education, often leads to a happier outcome, she said.
"There's no magic pill," she noted, "and equal effort doesn't necessarily mean equal results."
Ryan continues to take anti-viral and anti-fungal medications and maintains a restricted diet.
"Ryan had to learn how to smile," said Hinds. "So when his boss complimented him on his people skills, I knew everything was finally OK."
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