Tag Archives: autism diagnosis

A Radical Notion

As I fantasize about a world in which autism is not consider a “bad” thing, but instead is seen as yet another type of neurology with its pluses and minuses, I continue to rewrite the “ideal introduction to autism” with the hope that one day this may actually be a parent’s experience.  I can’t imagine what that would be like, but I know for a fact, it would be a hell of a lot better than the very real, very upsetting, confusing and painful introduction to autism that I was given almost ten years ago.

First off, the literature regarding autism…  more and more there are books and blogs (!) written by Autistic people introducing the idea of autism as another kind of neurology with both innate challenges and wonders.  I’ve listed many of them on the Resources page on this blog.  As there were no blogs (written by Autistic people) that I knew of in the fall of 2004 I went to Barnes & Noble and bought pretty much every single book written on Autism.  Some would say that was my first mistake, as I was greeted with nothing but gloom and doom.  Other than Donna Williams and Temple Grandin, all the books were written by non autistic people about the dire, horrors of autism and what that meant for your child. (And none of it was good.)  Autism was most definitely not something to celebrate.

The idea that autism could be seen as anything but terrible was not even a radical notion, it was a thought that hadn’t made it into the public sphere.  When Emma was diagnosed the big names associated with autism were Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy and Bernard Rimland.  It was impossible to read anything about autism without those three names coming up.  Parents new to all of this, fumbled around trying to make sense of the various thoughts about cause, was it really an epidemic and how to best serve our children who were said to have been snatched from our protective arms.  I’ve written about the depth of my fear during those first few months that turned quickly into years in numerous posts on this blog.

My fantasy is nothing short of radical, but perhaps one day it will not be seen as such, but instead, will be commonplace.  My fantasy introduction to autism begins with the evaluation.  At least one of the therapists who came to our home in September of 2004 would have been Autistic.  Once it was thought my daughter might occupy a place on the Autism spectrum, more Autistic therapists, social workers and psychologists would have come to conduct the evaluation and talk to us.  This, then, would have been our introduction to autism…  meeting actual Autistic people, who are able to articulate what the challenges are and what the joys are!  People who could offer a balanced view of a neurology that I would be able to identify with and see there was overlap with my own.  People who would gently encourage me to review my own neurology and see that my daughter’s experience and processing of the world, while different from mine, has many similarities.  People who could help me so that I was in a better position to be the mother my daughter needed me to be.

After the evaluation and diagnosis had been made, we would then be given support in finding at least a few Autistic people who were in the profession of working with families with Autistic children.  In my fantasy, Autistic people would be among those creating schools, designing curriculums, teaching academics, conducting seminars for us, the parents of Autistic children, to attend so that we might better help our kids.  It seems to me a radical shift in all aspects of autism, what is said about what it is to be Autistic and what is being told to those who are non autistic, needs to occur.  My dream team would include Autistic and non autistic alike, but it would be a blend of those who presume my child competent, who treat my child with respect, who are interested in my child’s well being and want to work towards her strengths, encouraging her to be all she can be and cheering her on.  photo

Walk Toward the Light

First there was the evaluation.  The therapists, the psychologist, the questions. Everyone arrived with their little bag of toys that remained untouched by session’s end.  Some tried to interact, others just observed, but all, eventually, turned to us to ask pointed questions.  Questions meant to gather information, but that felt like tiny daggers, cloaked in kindness, laced with concern.  They jotted down things we could not see, little bits of information they would, no doubt, refer to later, once back in the safety of their office.

Meanwhile we were in the midst of it, with our child who behaved in ways we couldn’t anticipate and often did not understand.  None helped us with that. Their reports finished, their conclusions made, their notes and jottings summarized into a single word – autism.  Delivered to us by phone, we were told, like a psychic delivering a premonition, the cold, hard “truth”.  Our daughter’s life, suddenly bled of joy, like so many leeches placed on a feverish body, draining her of all vibrancy.  Her bright future no longer bright, she was categorized.   Her deficits itemized and highlighted, her strengths dismissed or ignored, the solution, the remedy, the therapeutic interventions, the “behavior modification” programs could now begin.  If we were lucky she could be trained.  She could be “modified”.  She was young, we were reassured.  There was still time.  We were congratulated for having caught “it” so early.  Early intervention was key, we were told.  Intervention…

That was the beginning.  That was the beginning.  Instead of reassurances, we were given dire statistics, useless advice, asides about inner strength, courage, even “god” was evoked with alarming frequency.  People learned of our news. Carried along on the same wave of terror, they tried their best to conceal what they really thought.  Some were more successful than others.  Some, couldn’t help themselves, in an ill-conceived attempt to prop up, they said things like, “I don’t think I’m strong enough to have such a child…” or “I wouldn’t be able to handle it if…” or simply “How do you do it?”  and with each, the darkness crept closer, enveloping us in arms of sadness and pity.  The darkness became familiar, soon, without realizing it, I had embraced it and found others who felt similarly.

What I would have given to have had my Autistic friends there with me during that period when everything was so scary and the unknown loomed before us like a dark  impenetrable wall.  What I would have given, for someone to say, “You are frightened now, but they do not know, they do not understand, they may mean well, but they cannot help you.   You see, they are coming at all of this from the perspective of their own limited neurology.  They cannot see beyond what they believe to be true.  But there is another “truth” and it is one they are unable to tell.  The words they use will only lead you down a path you must reject.  It is a path that will descend into more fear, more terror.  It will not lead you and your child to anywhere you want to go.  Come with me, instead.  Walk with me.  Walk toward the light.

In my ever evolving fantasy of – What if? – I imagine all my friends… my friends who are Autistic, some of whom do not speak, some who do, some have similar interests as my daughter, others do not, but all… all share her neurology… and it is towards them that I walk.  It is with them that I surround myself.  It is with them that I choose to be among, because they know.  They know what it is to be Autistic.  They put beauty in the word “autism”.  It is their faces, their words that I think of when I think about autism and my fear is vanquished.  Fear, now replaced with pride and hope and joy that my daughter is part of such a caring, loving group of people; I am relieved.   A community who has come together to care for each other in a world that continues to ostracize, segregate and criticize, this is the community that stands with their arms open wide, in acceptance, in celebration of all that my daughter is and will become.

Walk with me… walk toward the light…

Rainbow Clouds