A weighty diagnosis
February 7, 2010
When Karen Wu found out she was pregnant with twins, she and her husband, Ben McConnell, envisioned the children growing up side by side and doing all the same things together — from starting kindergarten to getting driver’s licenses.
The twins, Molly and Peter, are 3 years old now. They both attend preschool at the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Roanoke County. Wu and McConnell are uncertain whether the twins will enter kindergarten in a public school together in two years.
Molly has an autism spectrum disorder, a neurological condition that affects communication, social interaction and behavior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates an average of one in 110 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders each year, and boys are affected four times as often as girls. It is called a spectrum disorder because it affects individuals differently, ranging from mild to severe.
Molly’s diagnosis falls in the moderate range. Peter is unaffected by autism.
The cause of autism is unknown and there isn’t a cure, but thousands of Virginia families are caring for children with the disorder. Many of the families struggle to pay for therapies and other out-of-pocket costs not covered by health insurance. Virginia’s lawmakers last year voted down bills that would have required insurance companies to cover treatments, but one proposal is still on the table again this winter.