This post is my opinion.

Autism is very topical right now.  A billboard on the way to my son’s school says that “1 in 88” children will be diagnosed as such.  We all know children with this label.  Are more autistic children being born these days?   Is it due to what we eat, or breathe, or the stress of our lives, or old sperm?  We do know now that it is not because of inoculations.  That is a very bad message that won’t seem to go away.

Autism describes people with social problems, difficulty in communicating, living in fantasy rather than reality.  My step son did not speak until age three, and that is a very common occurrence in the diagnosis of this disorder.   He reads, writes, goes to school.  He is comfortable with adults, but not with children.  He does not speak to fellow students at school or at church unless directly asked a question.

His pediatrician, my friend, said at his first appointment with her:  “Remember, he is not like us.”  What she was saying was do not analyze his behavior with regard to logic, or what we would do in a similar situation.  His brain does not process the way ours do.

His longtime teacher told us to try to train him in more complex tasks than simply to carry out an order.  I asked him, thinking about this, to go to the studio, and bring me two pens that were sitting on the round kitchen table.  When he came back, he had been to the studio, opened up an old jewelry salesman’s case (not an easy task in itself) in which I keep little hammered aluminum items that I collect, and brought me the top to a small condiment bowl, and an aluminum hair clip.  This task was beyond his capability.

We are changing his schools this fall, and got a new “physiological” done for his entrance into his new school.  His IQ, now a combination of several measurements, rather than just one, is well below 70.  He has the diagnosis also of MR, mental retardation.

“Mental Retardation” is a very politically incorrect word.  Probably because it was so misused by boomer kids, being awful to their fellow boomer kids.  Even in a medical environment, a person is more likely to ask “And is his diagnosis MR?”, not using the actual term.

With regard to my son’s behavior, it is what he does not understand that is the biggest problem, not who he will not talk to.  He is described as autistic because that is easier.  It is not as hurtful.  I think that is why we are hearing this word all the time.

The confusion gets worse.  The new edition of the DSM eliminates Asperger’s Syndrome as a special sub category within autism.  No more Asperger’s, just autism.  The problem here is that Asperger’s is getting cool.  The population sees these people as quirky socially, but brilliant in a special area, which is true.  My son is not this way, although he can make some pretty remarkable connections in looking and thinking about maps.

temple grandin

We heard Temple Grandin speak a couple of summers ago at the SC Autism Society meeting.  She was wonderful, brilliant and pure.  She holds a Phd from the University of Illinois, and is a professor at Colorado State University.  And she has autism, in the former form of Asperger’s syndrome.

She is a leader in the humane handling of animals, designing appropriate means of their harvesting for our food.  HBO produced a movie in 2010 under her name.  We were able to view the movie one night, and meet her the next morning.  What an amazing person she is.  And famous.  During her talk, you could “feel”  some of the pride that people with Asperger’s have.  She was talking about Silicon Valley.  This was just after Steve Jobs had died.  She said, “I can say this now, that without the math-aspies out in California, there would BE no Silicon Valley”.  These people have found their place, and ways to deal with their quirks.

If you have a diagnosis of MR, you don’t have simple quirks, that’s for sure.  But if you have a diagnosis of autism and MR, as many do, it is much easier to refer to the whole package as autism.