Spring is here and with Spring comes April, and with April comes Autism Awareness month, a mixed blessing as far as I'm concerned. The advocate in me wants to get out there and increase the general public's knowledge base on this topic (thus my recent book 41 Things To Know About Autism). The parent in me wants to go hide under a rock.
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., whose life was recently made into an excellent HBO movie starring Claire Danes has autism. So does my son, Jeremy, and they have a few other things in common. They both suffer form sensory processing challenges. They will both be keynotes at a two day virtual conference, Things To Know About Autism. Both Temple's mother, Eustacia Cutler, and I were advised by the different medical professionals who diagnosed our children (40 years apart) to institutionalize our children and to get on with our lives. Like many mothers given the same advice, we followed our parental instincts instead, and did whatever we could to help our children.
Although Temple and Jeremy both received early intervention from their mothers at a time when none was available at the time, the results have been very different. Temple may still be autistic, but she has become a person of many talents, written numerous books, started her own company, and become a professor. Grandin has become a leader in the field of livestock handling as well as in the field of autism. More importantly (at least in my book) she is able to function independently and live by herself and care for herself.
At 21, my son has received numerous treatments and therapies with acronyms such as ABA, TEEACH, OT, SI, AIT, RPM, and some biomedical interventions including Mythl B12, HBOT and more. Each has helped to a certain extent. Jeremy is able to learn and communicate by typing, has a GPA of 3.5, and will be graduating from high school in June with a full academic diploma. He is currently taking his first community college class while completing high school. Despite his efforts, his family's efforts and the efforts of educators, other professionals, and support staff, Jeremy is still dependent on others for most of his functional life skills.
The point is, autism is still a mystery, and what works with one person does not necessarily work for another. Two people sharing the same label - like Temple and Jeremy do - can be totally different in terms of their functional abilities. The reason why one person has autism, and what it looks like is different as well. Some reach the usual developmental milestones - they speak, they play, and then they regress. Some, like my son, were delayed from birth.
Autism is still a mystery. We have some answers, for some of the children. But not for all. Autism Awareness month is still a necessity, and a good time to find out more about autism. With a diagnosis rate of 1 in 110 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) if you don't know someone with autism, you will soon. One of your neighbors could be someone like Dr. Grandin, or someone like my son, or a child with regressive-type autism with health challenges. In any case, knowledge is a good thing. It takes a village.....