The word “autism” was never spoken at the session of the Aspen Ideas Festival I attended yesterday. After it was over I wondered if I’d somehow been mistaken and reread the email I’d received . This is the email I was sent describing the session:
“How to Recognize Happiness June 29, breakfast,
Happiness as an ongoing state of mind–rather than a fleeting pleasurable sensation–could be recognized by the predominance of positive affects, by an ongoing freedom from inner conflicts that express themselves in obviously tormenting ways, by a sense of inner calmness, and by attitudes that reflect some kind of benevolence toward others, even though in the case of autistic children, all these may not be expressed in the usual ways.”
My guess is one of the speakers was unable to make it and so it became a more general discussion surrounding conflict, suffering and cultivating a practice to help with that. The moderator was late, having gone for a hike in the woods and found herself lost. But the Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, director of the Karuna-Shechen a non-profit headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal, who in France anyway has been given the label of – happiest man on earth – questioned that title, suggesting perhaps this was a difficult thing to test for, given the world’s current population of over 6 billion people. It was a perfectly pleasant way to spend an hour of one’s morning, especially if one had come to Aspen specifically for the Ideas Festival and didn’t have any expectations. Certainly there is much to be said about cultivating compassion and putting oneself at the service of others. Just talk to any parent of a child with autism.
What bothers me about all of this is the lack of conversation, the reluctance to feature autism as a worthy topic. It is something I see all the time. The people, like myself who are talking about it, are doing so because we are parents of children with autism. Perhaps it’s seen as a downer, after all there’s no cure, we don’t know the cause, so let’s just not discuss it, let’s not have any conversations about it, let’s not even bring it up. Maybe it’ll go away if we ignore it enough. It’s got to be such a drag listening to someone who goes on about autism, the statistics, news stories about the rampant abuse of autistic people, it’s intractable nature, blah, blah, blah. Why can’t I talk about something more cheerful?
Like happiness, for example.
And here’s the thing – actually I can. In fact most of the parents with children with autism can. We parents of autistic children have found ourselves elated by a word, a single word coming from the mouth of our child. It doesn’t take much for us to feel joy. Our child can hug us and that lone hug is something we remember as though we had received the Nobel Prize. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know the cause, we don’t know the best way to treat it, because autism isn’t viewed with the same sort of panic the avian flu received or mad cow disease or any of a number of topics which swept all of us up in a frenzy of terror.
According to the CDC at least 1% of our population has been diagnosed with autism. That’s over 60,000,000 autistic people world wide. 60 MILLION! And yet, autism, gets a big yawn. So here’s an idea, let’s keep ignoring it, let’s all agree not to discuss autism, because what’s the point really?
By the way, just in case anyone’s wondering, I’m the mother of a beautiful little girl who’s Great-grandfather began the Aspen Institute and who’s hope for the future gets dimmer by the second.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com