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Wyckoff promotes autism awareness

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With one in 150 children affected by the condition, autism is not exactly a silent scourge anymore in the United States. But Wyckoff Heights Medical Center wants to make sure that families in immigrant and low−income communities know how to recognize the condition in their children.

Autistic children have difficulties with social interaction, problems communicating and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests, according to the National Institute of Health. A baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time, although the disorder can also present itself after several years, the NIH said.

This is where Wyckoff hopes to step in and help families understand their children’s condition.

“A lot of times, families think it’s behavior and they’ll outgrow it,” said Rosemarie Oquendo, coordinator of the autism program at the hospital, which brings families together with doctors at the facility and therapy and outpatient options in nearby neighborhoods.

“A lot of them go deep into Queens or Manhattan when we’re right here,” she said.

Some noteworthy Queens autism organizations are not so far away from Ridgewood and Glendale, like New York Families for Autistic Children, a nonprofit based in South Ozone Park that serves approximately 2,500 families a year. The nonprofit offers families help in securing Medicaid coverage for their children, parent workshops, training and recreation programs for autistic children, including tennis, bowling, basketball and swimming.

Bushwick resident Jannete Santana, who takes her autistic 12−year−old son, Eduardo Rodriguez, to a special school in Manhattan, agreed that resources have been hard to find in northern Brooklyn and southern Queens.

“It’s very limited,” she said. “And I’m glad that Wyckoff came out with this. ... Rosemary’s been a great help. She’s done a lot.”

Santana said she began to suspect her son’s development was unusual when he was not yet talking at 15 months old. Doctors first diagnosed Eduardo with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but she began to suspect something else when Eduardo was twice held back in school.

At the suggestion of a private school in the Bronx, she had Eduardo tested for autism in October. Now she and Eduardo see a neurologist at Wyckoff regularly.

“When I first found out about it, I was not surprised,” she said. “I knew there was something that wasn’t right. It was a little bit frustrating. I felt like it was my fault, but then again scared for him.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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