Have you ever seen Late Night with David Letterman's segment called "Stupid Pet Tricks?" You know the ones where some dingbat in Des Moines trains her Capuchin monkey to scratch her back with a spork in order to get her 15 minutes of fame? Admit it, we've all marveled over the water skiing squirrel, haven't we?
There's a media barrage being presented that I call "Stupid Autism Tricks." These are studies, books, TV reports that appear to be designed to soften autism in the mind of the public.
Remember the autistic boy who threw a three pointer from center court and got so much media attention that he met the President? Nice story. But what about the rest of the child's life when he's not making miraculous shots? And would Mr. Bush care to meet my girls? Or do they have to sing an aria in German at Carnegie Hall while standing on their heads juggling flaming bowling pins before they would attract his interest? Geez, we're going to have to really work on those gross motor skills.
There's a PR push for Daniel Tammet, author of Born On A Blue Day. Daniel is an engaging man with a rare savant version of autism. 60 Minutes ran a segment on this soft spoken, quirky man. They showed how Tammet must weigh out exactly 45 grams of oatmeal for breakfast each day. No more. No less. The camera didn't show us what happens if he is short by a gram or two and the box is empty. I'd have liked to have seen that part. How many people saw him, heard "autism" and thought, "Wow! That's pretty cool! He's so smart. That doesn't look so bad."?
An anthropologist (and father of a daughter with autism) named Grinker wrote a book in which he seems to refute that there is an autism epidemic at all. Instead, he talks about good old better diagnosis, semantics and cultural changes being behind the startling jump from 1 in 10,000 diagnosed to 1 in 166 in mere decades. As if pediatricians forty years ago would have ignored children who can not speak and have profound neurological/behavioral issues. I might have to stop shopping at Anthropologie in protest. Petty, I realize. But it's all I've got.
Then there's the genetics cash pot. Millions of dollars are flowing to genetics research. News flash. My kids have had tens of thousands of dollars of testing with the top neurometabolic-geneticist in the country. Aetna got a $40,000 hospital bill to learn what my kids don't have. They have no chromosomal anomalies, no definable disease. Big whoop. They still have autism. But no one wants to ask what might be causing autism. Really, just walk around the elephant in the room. Pretend its not there.
The toughest blow came just this week. When ABC's The View ran a segment on autism and Rosie O'Donnell refused to ask or allow a single question about cause. Rosie, the queen of confrontation, was afraid to even broach the topic of why is there so much autism in 2007. Who is powerful enough to muzzle Rosie?
For God's sake, this is America! We're bombarded with articles telling us the cause du jour for myriad diseases and inconveniences. The sun causes melanoma. Smoking causes wrinkles. Charred meats cause cancer. But nothing causes autism. It just happens.
It's been a rough time for thousands of parents, myself among them, who feel like we're whistling Dixie out of our you-know-whats to demand coverage of this epidemic. We just want answers. Not sleight of hand. Not useless studies and a steady diet of thin gruel so we can learn "the signs." I'll let you in on a little secret. When your 18 month can't speak and spins in circles screaming, the cavernous pit in your stomach is a darn good sign.
For this autism mom, the Stupid Autism Tricks make for a lot of late (and sleepless) nights. I wonder who's on Letterman tonight? I haven't seen that squirrel in a long time.