I was listening to some talk radio today, in the middle of a teacher workday, and the host had a caller whose son was charged with making terroristic threats because he drew a stick figure of a person with a gun. She mentioned that the boy had autism, and after she hung up, the host started wondering if maybe autism was becoming the latest fad, much like ADHD was during the 1990’s.
“Twenty years ago, I never heard about people with autism! I admit, I’ve never researched it and I think I’m going to because I keep hearing about it. It seems like every time there is a parent who has a child with some behavior problems, autism gets brought up. Just what is autism? And why are we hearing so much about it all the sudden?”
If I had a telephone handy, I would have called him up. I’m a card carrying member of the Autism Society of America (ASA), a veteran teacher of individuals with developmental delays, as well as the parent of a child with autism. I’ve spent more time than I’d ever have imagined 20 years ago dealing with this.
It’s true that 20 years ago, we never heard about people with autism. I didn’t know anything about it and wouldn’t have recognized it if I would have seen it. Now all of a sudden, it is everywhere. The reason why it is everywhere is because it is an epidemic! Twenty years ago, the prevalence of autism was about 1 in 10,000 births. Today, the CDC recognizes that autism is a spectrum disorder affecting between 2 and 6 per 1000. The ASA puts prevalence at about 1:166 births. It is the fastest growing of the childhood disorders in the country at the present time. The CDC has been working on a campaign to help doctors and parents recognize signs of developmental delays so that intervention can begin as early as possible. While not everyone agrees exactly what the best course of early intervention is, everyone agrees that earlier is better.
This does show that there is a lot of education on the subject of autism that we still have to do. This guy is nationally syndicated in several cities around the country. Whether or not you agree with his politics, he is knowledgeable about a variety of topics and has opinions about them all. I’m thankful he at least had enough sense to admit that he hadn’t researched it and knew nothing about it. This person does do charitable work for Children’s hospitals and other worthy causes, which made his ignorance even more surprising.
The fact of the matter is, is that if you don’t know someone with autism right now, you probably will at some point. Everyday, individuals looking up information about autism end up here through search engines. So follow my links above and get a bit of an education if you haven’t already. Our local autism support group will be sponsoring an Autism Awareness Walk in early April and others will be going on around the country as well, I’m sure. Just about the time I think that we have a fairly informed public, I run across folks like the talk show host, who probably represents a far larger group than I could imagine. Since my family and I are traveling autism references and exhibits, all of our friends and family have some knowledge of the disorder. It’s rare that we run into people in our community who do not know someone else on the spectrum or know of someone who knows someone on it. That’s not to say everyone understands autism. In fact, no one fully understands it, otherwise we might have a cure for it.