A lot of people are talking about the New York Times article that explores whether or not people with autism can be cured, and if so, why some seem to and others don’t. Can it be ascribed to parental and therapeutic influence? Or are some kids just destined from the start to be “autism-free” one day, and others aren’t? And even if you can cure people of autism, should you? Does anyone have the right to decide what constitutes a happier or more productive life for anyone else?
I’ve been thinking about all this and trying to put my thoughts into some kind of coherent form. Not sure I’m there yet, but here goes:
I believe we have to accept and love the children we are given. I also believe we should teach them the things we think will help them along their way. I don’t think that these two beliefs are mutually exclusive. For example: I have a daughter who isn’t academically inclined. We get it. We moved her to a less academic school and don’t ask her to take challenging courses. But when she has a test coming up, I encourage her to go to her room and study for it. Sometimes I even insist on it. Does that mean I’m trying to negate who she is as a person? That I want her to be something different from who she is? Nah. I adore her. I’d just like her to make a connection between working a little harder and doing a little better, so that for the rest of her life, when things are hard, she thinks, “I’ll just work harder” instead of “I can’t do it.”
Teaching your children is part of parenting. And identifying the things that are hardest for them and trying to find ways for them to be able to do those things–that’s also part of parenting. And recognizing that there are limits to what you can or should teach your children . . . also part of parenting.
Do I believe that autism can be cured? No, actually, although I’m not a doctor or a PhD, so there’s no reason to listen to me. I’ve simply come to believe that whatever the neurological damage is, it’s there to stay. Do I think many children on the spectrum can learn skills that will help them navigate the world around them? Yes–but that appears to be easier for some kids than for others, so no parent should feel bad if his child can’t learn the skills another child can. Do I think our society should be more accepting of those who are different, in subtle or overt ways, and stop trying to impose a homogenous standard of behavior on everyone and judging everyone who doesn’t conform to it?
My son is 22 now. He was diagnosed with autism at 2 1/2 and had behavioral and speech therapy for years. He is finishing up at a four-year college where he has majored in graphic design. He’s a good person and handsome as can be and very talented. But he struggles on a daily basis, in ways that he himself has started to explore in a blog he started. I’m glad we worked so hard on his language in those early years because he has the words to tell us how hard it is for him, how hard it’s always been. And by telling us, he’s teaching us. I just hope people are ready to learn.