DEAR ABBY: April is Autism Awareness Month. I'm hoping that with the number of people your column reaches, you will help us in the autism community spread the word about the need for research and education about this childhood disorder.
Autism is a neurological disorder that severely affects a child's ability to develop communication skills and social interactions. The child lives in a world of his or her own. Its rate of occurrence has increased to about one in 400 children. Autism shows up around 18 months of age or older. It mostly affects boys, at a ratio of 4-to-1. No one knows what causes autism, and as yet there is no cure.
I have a granddaughter who has this disorder. The need for research is great because, with proper education, these children can improve and lead much better lives than they did 20 years ago. My granddaughter has improved a great deal in the 18 months she has been going to school. There, she is trained by teachers with special education skills to help these kids along.
Please help our growing community of autistic children by letting people know that if they need any additional information, they can contact the Autism Society. Thank you, Abby. -- ANDREA RUSSELL, NEW CASTLE, DEL.
DEAR ANDREA: I am pleased to help spread the message. Since I received your letter, I have learned that through hard work and intensive education, people with autism can hold jobs, make friends and lead fuller lives. Autism is the third most common developmental disability, and more common than Down syndrome.
People who would like to learn more about autism should contact the Autism Society of America, 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20814. The toll-free number is (800) 328-8476, extension 150; the Web address is: www.autism-society.org.
DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Grateful Survivor," who felt she was in love with a man who had rescued her from drowning, instantly reminded me of an essay, "The Chemistry of Love" by Diane Ackerman, that I use in one of my writing classes at California State University.
The essay explains the chemical underpinnings of such human experiences as falling in love, giving birth, responding to danger, and finding security in long-term relationships. Ackerman points out that the human body economically reuses some chemicals for many purposes. Such is the case with PEA (phenylethylamine), which gives an amphetamine-like "high" to new lovers and also surges during dangerous or thrill-seeking behavior.
According to Ackerman, the body's use of PEA "may help explain a fascinating phenomenon: People are more likely to fall in love when they're in danger. ... Danger makes one receptive to romance."
I'm no chemist, but it may relieve the happily married "Grateful" to know that what seemed like a puzzling and excessive response was caused by a chemical process over which she had no control. -- JOAN SPANGLER, ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
DEAR JOAN: That's fascinating. I have always wondered why couples found it "romantic" to be married while skydiving, bungee jumping or diving 20,000 leagues under the sea. Ackerman's theory provides a clue.
What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
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