Autism is a very complex condition. It has been said that if you meet one person with autism, you have just that, met one person with autism. At a basic level an individual with an autistic spectrum disorder has problems with speech or communication, problems being a social being and recognizing another person’s perspective, and usually has some unique behaviors, sensitivities, or interests. My purpose in this blog is not to be all inclusive nor claim to be an expert in autism. It is rather my perspective of the condition as a pediatrician and a father with a daughter that has it.
Autism is a condition, that by now, most of us have been exposed to or been touched by. It has become a condition so common that pediatricians screen for it routinely at the 18 month and 24 month health supervision visits. Like most medical conditions, it is a condition that benefits from early identification and intervention. It has no single definitive cause. It is a condition that almost certainly has genetic and environmental elements in terms of being causal. What we know today is that it is not related to things that many had feared in the not so distant past. It is not related to vaccinations, diet, or parenting errors.
There have always been people with autism. We are certainly better today at detecting those with the diagnosis and interventions have evolved to help children in more effective ways. However, there is no “cure”. There are medications we can use to modify factors seen disproportionately in those with autism. These include things like behaviors frequently seen in individuals with ADHD, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, aggression/irritability, and depression. There are behavioral strategies that can be used to minimize negative behaviors. The reality is that there is no one correct “treatment” because every person on the spectrum is unique.
When I look back on my journey with autism and with my daughter, there are many things that I have learned and would love to inform those individuals that may travel down a similar path whether with autism or with any child with special needs. There is no benefit to denial. If you have concerns, bring it up with your pediatrician/nurse practitioner. There is no Lorenzo’s oil for this condition. Please stop wasting resources whether they be fiscal, emotional, time spent, or mental energy trying to “cure” your child. Remember that everyone in your family deserves to get what they need to be the best that they can be, but that the family still must come first. Children with special needs and autism need to be loved and appreciated for what they are and can be. We are charged to make them be the best versions of themselves, not to make them “neurotypical”. Some of them will go on to do amazing things. We all know of individuals that are famous that are on the spectrum that have advanced mankind and science. Conversely, others will require constant supervision and protection. But at the core of what I am telling you is that they do not need to be cured, they need to be cultivated. In my 15 year journey with my daughter you can imagine I have done a lot of reading or what many of you would call “research”. I have gone down the rabbit hole that has taken me from trying to make my Eleanor look normal. Normal people are like dandelions–they can grow pretty much anywhere. I have adopted a philosophy that looks at my Eleanor as if she is an orchid. She can be an amazing beautiful flower if given the right amount of moisture, sunlight, and proper soil.
As parents and medical providers, we really need to be mindful of our responsibilities to these unique children, but in the end, acceptance is what they truly deserve. Please make them the best versions of themselves.