Trending
MOST READ
Beaches Be Trippin\': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Beaches Be Trippin': Five Texas Coast Spots Worth the Drive

Arts & Culture: Let’s face it, most of us Lone Stars view the Texas coast as a poor man’s Waikiki. Hell, maybe just a poor man’s Panama Beach — only to be used... By Callie Enlow 7/10/2013

Best Public Swimming Pool

Best of 2013: 4/24/2013
Get Board: The cheapest, easiest way to sample SA’s best flavors

Get Board: The cheapest, easiest way to sample SA’s best flavors

Flavor: As San Antonio slowly but surely turns into a food destination for hungry travelers, chefs across the city are highlighting some of their... 11/6/2013

Best Place to People Watch

Best of 2013: 4/24/2013
New Sensation: SA’s Austin Mahone and teen pop superstardom

New Sensation: SA’s Austin Mahone and teen pop superstardom

Music: Like the bulk of Austin Mahone’s Instagram account, this one’s a selfie. In a white tank top, hair coifed up real big, Mahone arranges... By Matt Stieb 7/22/2014
Calendar

Search hundreds of restaurants in our database.

Search hundreds of clubs in our database.

Follow us on Instagram @sacurrent

Print Email

Feature

New federal data shows autism rates are booming. Local researchers are finding industrial chemicals may play a role

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: Michael Brajas, License: N/A

Michael Brajas

Rafael Hernandez, here with his former teacher Tish Hernandez, volunteers two days a week at Any Baby Can.

Photo: Greg Harman, License: N/A

Greg Harman

Ray Palmer has drawn stark lines between ambient mercury exposure in Bexar County and local incidence of autism.


When Tisha Gonzalez first met Rafael Hernandez, the elementary school student didn't care much for other kids. And his body language suggested he didn't care much for his new teacher either. When he had to communicate, he did so only in the faintest of whispers — or by screaming. He avoided eye contact. "He didn't like to be around anyone," Gonzalez said. "He was pretty tense and not interested in interacting."

It was the early 1980s and Gonzalez was San Antonio ISD's lone autism specialist. Rafael, or "Rafa," was a newly diagnosed autistic student joining her small classroom of about six others for the first time.

Today it's hard to find a school district that doesn't have a team dedicated to autistic students, and Gonzalez has moved up the ranks to become the director of autism services at the San Antonio branch of the nonprofit Any Baby Can, offering families counseling and training post diagnosis. Rafa, now in his 30s, comes twice a week as a volunteer to stuff envelopes, collate in-house produced textbooks, and organize rooms for meetings. His affection for Gonzalez, and just about everyone else he meets, is obvious. His manners are impeccable ("It's good to meet you," he says, shaking hands with a visitor. "I'm making coffee. I make really good coffee."), and he can navigate small errands by city bus, but he may never be truly self-sufficient. He still lives at home, cared for by his mother.

In the years to come, San Antonio — and the rest of the country, for that matter — will be dense with folks like Rafa. New numbers released by the U.S. Center for Disease Control in late March show the scope of the epidemic: one in 88 children in a handful of communities being tracked are now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by the age of 8. The numbers are based on information compiled in 2008 and represent an increase over one in 110 that were being diagnosed in 2006 and a 77 percent increase since 2002. Consider that when Gonzalez first got involved working with autistic children the number was roughly one in 10,000. Needless to say, the new figures have shocked advocates, parents, and researchers, and contributed to a tug-of-war over where to cast the blame.

Autism — or autism spectrum disorder, which has come to include Asperger's and Rett syndrome — is classified as a complex neurobiological disorder with its root in early brain development. Walk into a classroom or schoolyard and autistic students are typically easy to spot. Frequently, they'll be the ones walking the fence perimeter by themselves while other children play, Gonzalez said. They typically don't socialize or communicate well. Autism spectrum disorders appear before the age of three, according to the CDC, and can last throughout a person's life. Gonzalez and others interviewed from area school districts attested to the rise in the condition locally, but also point out that school districts are getting better at spotting — and assisting — autistic students today. "Now with the better screeners and more awareness, we've gotten so much better at picking kids out," Gonzalez said.

Recently in News
We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.
comments powered by Disqus