Autism: No Resolution In an Hour, but a Life-Long Pioneering Trek

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Recently I’ve been reading about the depiction of Autism, specifically Asperger’s, in the media. This character has elements of it, but it’s not openly discussed, this other child has elements of it, but the writers don’t want to pigeon-hole their characters, etc. And then I read that the show, Parenthood, based off of the movie of the same title, will have one of their children diagnosed with Autism. Apparently the concept was so ingrained in my concerns that I had a dream about such a sitcom.  The following were the results.

The parents discover that their child is different than other children, and want to know what to do. They go to the school councilor, who then tells them their child might be autistic, and recommend they see a psychologist. This is serious stuff, not a big laugh that you would expect, but sets the tone for what will come.

So the parents go home and talk with their friends and family about the “diagnosis” (note, they have not actually gone to the psychologist yet), and they start getting advice. The first thing that comes up, of course, is the threat of vaccines, and how vaccines are poisoning our children. One friend and/or family member tells them they need to sue the vaccine companies. Another friend/family member tells them they need to get some “healing crystals” to place around their child at night and around their neck during the day. This is to “heal the spirit” of the child and make her well. And yet another family member turns to the couple who is by now scared out of their wits, and tells them that it’s all heavy metals anyway, and they should have their child purged with chelation treatments. Where did they get all this great advice? From watching a talk-show's interview with some celebrity with little to no education.

The parents are by now really frightened, the wife is crying, the dad is numb. Now, here is the twist: the dad is a hypochondriac, and thinks taking pills are the answer for everything. He says they are going to his favorite pharmacy to get something to fix their child. The mother, still trying to work through her own feelings, doesn’t disagree and goes with him.

The “pharmacy” is a group of guys that love to see this particular dad come into the shop. He will buy anything they tell him, and they often prescribe placebo’s just to get the money out of them. The dad goes into the pharmacy and says, “My child has autism. What’s it made of, and how do we fix it?” The guys go through their usual made-up mumbo-jumbo and start prescribing more placebos for the kid, and the dad completely trusts them. He’s just about to place down his money when one guy decides to be responsible and actually looks up what Autism is, and tells the dad to go see a psychologist.

Finally, they go to see the psychologist, and they really learn what Autism is: a spectrum of disorders that show up in diverse ways, but yet tend to have in common social reclusion and slow verbal development. The psychologist then proceeds to tell them about the spectrum, and where on the spectrum their child is. The mother has a good cry, the dad nods, trying to take it all in, and the psychologist then gives them advice on which books to read, a special school they can go to, and a heavy bill because their insurance does not cover autism diagnosis.

But in real life, it doesn’t work like that.  There is no magic cure, and even the psychologists that diagnose the disorder do not have all the answers.  Autistic children are unique, each having similarities in behavior, and yet many have very different behavior traits that distinguish them from other children with Autism.  As much as we would like to have all the answers, we just don't.  And that's precisely why some snake-oil salesmen, I mean "doctors" are able to peddle their poisons to desperate parents and potentially kill or seriously injure children that most often cannot speak for themselves.  And these so-called Autism Advocates are able to get away with it, because they promise the "quick fix."

But just like other “serious” issues dealt in sitcoms, the reality of Autism isn’t something that can be “fixed” in a half-hour, or in an hour’s time.  Nor with a pill, or starving the child of vital nutrients, or any other nonsense these "professionals" have promised will "fix" our children.  Autism isn’t a sprint, like having a cold. It’s not a marathon, like raising a child to adulthood. No, Autism is a lifelong around the world trek on foot with bare feet. You feel every step, the warm steps on even concrete when things go well, the freezing steps on slick ice when your child has a meltdown in public and others around you assume you are a bad parent, and the bleeding steps on sharp rocks when you feel like no progress is being made as your child has a melt down in the middle of the night for no reason at all.

So I applaud shows that try to depict Autistics, and parents that have children with Autism. It’s good to help other parents know what we are going through, if only on a superficial level. But I don’t see how they can show the full experience in an hour and have people really understand what autism is all about. It’s just not possible. It’s not an hour’s Sprint. It’s not a week-long mini-series type marathon. No, it’s a life-changing trek of pioneering parents. They leave their blood and tears behind, sacrificing their all for their children. Sometimes this means losing loved ones to scorn, anger, or even having them give up on you. Sometimes it means sacrificing social events for the benefit of your child. But at least each step, each bloody, painful step, is a step forward. Our reward as parents? The eye contact. The hugs. The occasional, “I love you”. The giggle of a child that is happy and excited about learning something new, like going to the potty on their own. That is what I live for.