Wednesday, April 2, 2008
National Autism Awareness Day
As most of my blog readers know, our lives have been significantly touched by autism. My only son, Jeffrey, was officially diagnosed as autistic in in 1999. We fought doctors for more than 17 years for a clear diagnosis, after being told by a psychiatrist at Emory University Hospital in 1990 that Jeffrey had "autistic like tendencies," and because he had only 8 or 9 of the 15 (at that time,) the doctor didn't want to label him autistic because he was afraid he would LIMIT Jeffrey's educational opportunities.
That is how much the autism community has changed in the last 18 years. Today, doctors can diagnose autism in an infant under the age of one.
Forgive me if I think wistfully of what my child's world might have been like had we had this diagnosis 24 years ago. His early childhood special education classes would have taught him to read in a manner more appropriate for a child with autism -- instead, Jeffrey would listen to the other children read and memorize the stories. When it was his turn, he would recite his part. To this day, he can memorize and recite hundreds -- maybe more -- movie segments, song lyric, and NASCAR statistics.
There were many, many early clues for Jeffrey, but no one could pinpoint autism -- not a gifted German doctor who took incredible care of Jeffrey in Wurzburg, Germany, not the world-renowned Psychologist at Georgia State who tested him in 1986, not the most thorough pediatrician in Atlanta who tested him for EVERYTHING from 1985 until 1992, when we moved to Louisiana. The puzzle pieces were there -- the just did not fit.
Today, Jeffrey is a healthy, happy man who towers above me at almost 6-feet tall. He has a beautiful girlfriend, a supportive work environment he loves, and a mother, father, step-father, grandfather, and all their extended families who love him dearly. He has never met a stranger, and he loved throughout Milledgeville.
But when I see Jenny McCarthy and Holly Robinson Peete talk about how intervention has changed their children, I wonder, why not mine? Autistic people are regimented -- changing Jeffrey now would be like unringing a bell. It hurts me, frankly, to see the media lose focus on these "gap kids" with autism. Sure there's an autistic woman who can write books, and a young man who can make free throws and will show up on Larry King Live. But hey there Sanjay Gupta, you want to see what life is REALLY like with a young adult with autism? As Rosemary Clooney once sang, "Come-on a my house." I'll show you what it's like.
The unconditional love.
The incredible stress.
The occasional anger and, sadly, violence.
The heartbreaking innocence.
The coy cleverness.
But most of all...the love.
Always, there is love.
If you have the chance to support an autism awareness group like Autism Speaks, I encourage you to do so. I'd give more, but could I really?
And if you yourself have a loved one with autism, you have my heartfelt love and prayers, but only if you send them back to us!
Much love, from Jeffrey and me.