Ian Owens, 12, took his turn on the tower game after playing his mom, Megan, in a game of Sequence for Kids.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network autism prevalence report. It stated that the occurrence of autism has increased to one in every 59 births in the United States, which has doubled in the past 14 years.

About one percent of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder, according to a 2014 report by the CDC. More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability and is diagnosed more frequently in males than females. Several services and support systems are available for caregivers. One such group is EasterSeals.

Easterseals offers services and support for more than 5,000 children and adults with varying disabilities. The purpose of the services is to assist people with all types of disabilities, providing an equal opportunity for attaining their goals and dreams.

Locally, Candace Harris is an autism specialist for the EasterSeals. Harris is a 2006 graduate of St. James High School. She organizes group activities and is a resource for guardians of autistic children in Salem and surrounding areas.

She visits schools and assists in planning individualized education plans, with Autism goals in mind.

Ian Owens, 12, is a fifth-grade student who, after two years of visits to an onslaught of doctors, received a full diagnosis.

Ian is part of a group that meets for activities monthly, along with guardians. The group plays games, takes field trips, and learns how to interact with others. Kindergartener Eli Gray, 6, is also part of the group. He was diagnosed at age 3. The group has helped him with socialization and people skills, according to his mom Jessika.

To join the group, you must have a referral from Dent County Disabilities Board. About six children from the county attend regularly.

World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, is internationally recognized as designated by the United Nations in December of 2007.

Ian’s mother, Megan, took a few minutes away from the group to talk about the stress of two years waiting for a diagnosis for her son and his love of Beatles music. Ian regularly attends appointments at The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The center is nationally recognized for confronting the challenges of ASD and other developmental conditions. He completes occupational therapy at Salem Memorial District Hospital and counseling in Waynesville.

She mentioned Stephen Shore and one of her favorite quotes by the world-famous doctor. Shore is an autistic professor of special education at Adelphi University. Known for his presentations, consultations and writings on lifelong issues related to education, relationships, employment, advocacy, and disclosure of ASD.

“The potential of those of us on the autism spectrum is unlimited – just like with everyone else,” said Shore.

There is no known single cause of autism. Increased awareness over the past two decades, along with intervention when an early diagnosis is made, can lead to improved outcome and quality of life.

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disability; signs or symptoms typically appear during early childhood and affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others, according to Other medical conditions can present symptoms that are very similar to autism, often leading to misdiagnoses or delay in diagnosis. At first glance, some people with autism may appear to have an intellectual disability, sensory processing issues or problems with hearing or vision.

According to, ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and affects individuals differently in varying degrees. Some behaviors associated with autism include delayed learning of language; difficulty making eye contact or holding a conversation; difficulty with decision-making, which relate to reasoning and planning; narrow, intense interests; poor motor skills’ and sensory sensitivities. A person on the spectrum might follow many of these behaviors or just a few. The diagnosis is applied based on analysis of all behaviors and their severity.

If you would like more information or to access resources available , contact Candace Harris at or Dent County Developmental Disabilities Board via phone, 573-729-4738.