07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Autism Should Not Be a Death Sentence

This had been a particularly rough April, aka "Autism Awareness Month." I'm trying to find the bright spots where I can. As always, I begin in my own home, with my three daughters, who have autism, and who can make me smile and laugh (and shake my head and holler, I admit) from morning to night.

This month, several people with autism wandered away from home and were reported missing. Most returned home safely, like Nadia Bloom, the witty youngster with Asperger's who stood in a swamp for four days until her miraculous rescue. Three year old Aiden Johnson of Arkansas was not so fortunate. He wandered away from his grandmother's house and drowned nearby. Erik Lippmann, age 30, was found dead on the beach in California, after having gone missing several days ago. Others included:

Kevin Kwok, 17, Ontario - found
Ryan Beaudette, 14, NY - found
Hallden Parrish, 16, FL - found
Brian Ortiz-Molina, 14, FL - found
Rebecca Collins-Fisher, 16, FL - found
Cody Daniel Jones-Barnard, 13, OR - found

This week, Daniel McLatchie, 44 shot his 22-year-old son Benjamin and then turned the gun on himself, in Maine. The newspaper report read, "it appeared that Daniel McLatchie was upset about what would happen to his autistic son after he and his wife died."

In February, a wealthy Manhattan executive named Gigi Jordan fed her eight-year-old son pills until he seized into death.

And lest you think it's Americans for whom the stress of autism is a burden, a Mum in London forced her 12-year-old "severely autistic" son to drink bleach, killing him. "Satpal Singh is believed to have killed the 12-year-old boy as she struggled to cope with looking after him."

Autism should not be a death sentence.

I wish I could tell you that autism brings only love and joy and candy canes and OMG! Ponies! Sometimes it feels like that's all the media (and even some within the autism world) want to hear from those of us living day to day caring for a loved one(s) or even those with the diagnosis themselves. If only that were the full reality for families. It's not.

However, that doesn't mean autism is nothing but stress and challenges and tears. Not by a long shot. And it doesn't mean people with autism are doomed. Not even as adults.

Last weekend, the carnival came to my town. And I knew "he" would be there.


Bob who has autism, looks to be in his 40s, and rides the scrambler from the moment the gates open until they close.

My girls love the Scrambler. It moves fast, it activates their sensory systems, it makes them laugh with giddy excitement. It's always our first ride at the carnival. We approached the ride, having arrived just moments after the gates opened, and sure enough, there was Bob, already in his Scrambler seat. I said to the young ticket taker, "He's here!" cocking my head toward Bob. "Of course," he answered, "that's Bob and he's been coming for 15 years." The ticket taker couldn't have been more than 21 years old.

I smiled and said, "Hi, Bob!" waving from the car where Bella and I were squished into one side. Bob waved back, grinning from ear to ear. The ride started, the slow sweep of the cars picked up speed until we were flying across the blacktop of the middle school parking lot where two of my girls are in special education for their autism. I heard Bella begin to laugh. I saw Mia and Gianna's wide smiles as they whooshed past us in their own car.

And I heard the glorious intonations from Bob. He rocked furiously back and forth, loudly proclaiming his joy in his own language. The ride slowed down. I wiped the tears from my eyes (it was the wind, I swear.) As I walked past the ticket taker, I said, "Thank you. And keep an eye on Bob."

"I will," he answered.

How about you? Will you keep an eye on the Bobs of the world?