Minnesota companies adapt to help children with autism

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Light it up blue – April is Autism Awareness Month.

In 2007, World Autism Awareness Day was adopted by the United Nations to raise autism awareness and promote early diagnosis and early behavioral interventions, according to Gov. Mark Dayton's blog. Every year autism organizations use this month, and World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), to raise awareness and funds for the disorder that affects about one in 68 children, according to a new study.

With new, more advanced research indicating so many children are now impacted by autism, companies have adapted in an effort to help. Creative Kidstuff, a local toy company, partnered with St. David's Children Center to develop autism-specific toys that are not only meant to be fun, but educational, benefiting children on the autism spectrum, WCCO says.

"Creative Kidstuff approached St. David's because we have the expertise in Autism and they have the expertise in toys," Sarah Rehman of St. David's, a child and family development center that specializes in autism services, told WCCO.

Creative Kidstuff has six categories of toys that were specifically chosen by St. David's specialists to help enhance the play and development of children. The categories include: social engagement and interaction, emotional development and regulation, creative thinking and imaginative play, sensory motor development, communication and interaction, cognition and problem solving.

Prices for the toys range from $3 to $50.

The toy store and St. David's have also compiled a list of tips for using these toys to play and learn. St. David's also lists out its favorite toys.

Another Minnesota organization is working to provide security and peace of mind to families with children with autism. Since 2007 Can Do Canines has specially trained dogs to help people with autism. These dogs are in high demand – families can end up waiting two to three years for a certified autism assist dog. But for many, it's worth the wait.

For 7-year-old Jonathan Prenevost, his dog Duncan is the calm within his sometimes-chaotic life. He had made progress with medication and therapy, but his family said they noticed a bigger difference since bringing Duncan home. Within a month or two, Jonathan had already taken on new responsibilities, like feeding the dog.

What is autism? Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United States and typically appears in early childhood, usually before the age of 3. There is no cure, however intensive and early treatment can make a big difference in many children’s lives. Although it's the fastest-growing developmental disorder, it's also the most underfunded, the Huffington Post says.

The CDC says boys are almost five times more likely to be identified with autism than girls – about one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls were identified with autism spectrum disorder, the study showed.

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