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Don McNay

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Autism and My Grandson's First Swim

Posted: 05/20/2012 11:11 pm

O, I believe, fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able.

-Natalie Merchant

My 11-year-old grandson took his first trip off the diving board tonight. Two weeks previously, he couldn't swim at all.

Seeing an 11-year-old swim is normally not a headline. But, my grandson has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of autism.

Seeing him jump in the pool was better than winning the lottery.

Having a grandson who can't swim is a frightening experience. What happens if he falls in water? I have not swum in several years but know I can. Could I get him to safety in case of emergency?

Now that issue is going off the table. He can make it to safety without me.

With a child with Asperger's Syndrome, it's the little things that mean a lot.

When he was first diagnosed, I spent a lot of time reading about Asperger's Syndrome and autism.

A lot of people with Asperger's wind up as Wall Street stock traders, professional gamblers or computer geniuses. There are some who believe that Bill Gates has a form of Asperger's.

I'm not expecting my grandson to grow up to be a billionaire like Bill Gates. I am hoping that he has a happy, normal and productive life -- the same hopes every parent and grandparent has.

The first thing I learned about autism is that there is no such thing as a "cure." There is a lot of education and special training needed. You don't suddenly flip a switch, or take a pill, and have an autistic child fill in the gaps in how his mind is circuited.

People who have children with autism learn what they can, find all the support and programs available and give love to their child with everything they have.

Thus, it is easy to get excited when a grandson jumps off the diving board and takes a swim.

I was surprised recently to find that my grandson was suddenly "cured" of Asperger's Syndrome.

It didn't come from being struck by lightning or due to the efforts of a faith healer like Oral Roberts.

It came from the American Psychiatric Association.

When the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders comes out, it won't list Asperger's as a diagnosis at all.

On the same day that my grandson made his successful leap off the diving board, the APA confirmed that it would maintain a new definition of autism, which will not list Asperger's as a possibility.

The irony is that for a long time he was unable to swim due to the sensory and motor issues associated with the disorder the APA is saying doesn't exist.

The "re-definition" by the APA came from a perception that Asperger's, and other forms of autism, were "over diagnosed."

In other words, according to the APA, the way to avoid paying for treatment is to suddenly decide that the disease doesn't exist at all.

That is an outrage that will keep thousands of children from getting help.

What happens when the children are 20, 30 and 50 years old and have never been counseled, educated or treated? A simple "change" in APA definition can damage children who could easily be helped.

My grandson is fortunate in one respect. Our family business, McNay Settlement Group, helps special needs children handle their money and plan for the rest of their lives.

His mother, aunt, and uncle are experts who know every financial vehicle and public program available to help children with special needs.

If health care reform is not overturned by the United States Supreme Court, several excellent new programs will be implemented to help autistic children.

There are a number of advocacy groups, such as Autism Speaks and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network , that are springing up to help in this area. Last March I got to spend a few minutes with the AS founders, Bob and Suzanne Wright, when we were both on the CBS Morning News. (I was on CBS to talk about what to do when you win the lottery.)

Like me, the Wrights became committed to the cause when their grandchild was diagnosed with autism.

My grandson and I recently went to a baseball game. He is learning about the sport his grandfather loves. While we were there, he completely reprogrammed my cell phone. He fixed a problem in thirty seconds that Apple's tech people couldn't fix in three hours.

He's a great child with a big heart. With a lot of love, education and counseling, "he will be able."

The jump in the pool was a big step forward.

One that caused his grandpa to leap for joy.

 

Follow Don McNay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Donmcnay

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