Autism, Empathy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have a son and a dream. My son is going to be eight this coming Tuesday. My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 26 months. It still brings tears to eyes, although not necessarily for all of the same reasons as it did some six years ago.

You see, when your child is given a label on the autism spectrum, you are not only led to believe certain something’s, but expected to accept other certain something’s as well. Some of the most common are: autism is rare, autism is hereditary, and there is no treatment. Pretty bleak to say the least.

Legend number one, autism is rare. According to the CDC’s most recent data, autism now affects one in every 110 children, and one in every 70 boys. The data was reflective of eight year olds in 2006. It represented a 57% increase from 2002. Autism is now anything but rare.

Delusion number two, autism is genetic. While it’s true that after about two decades of rigorous searching for the ever-so-elusive autism gene, researchers have identified genes which may or may not be responsible for somewhere around 10 – 15 % of known autism cases, there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. An epidemic is defined as “spreading more quickly and more extensively than would usually be expected." See fallacy number one, above. For the record, our son recently completed meticulous, methodical genetic testing. He was tested for every gene ever associated with autism to date. He has exactly zero.

Popular myth number three, autism is not treatable. To say that, proclaims all hope is lost. It’s not. Hundreds of thousands of parents and grandparents to children with autism are treating their loved ones with success. Once they are able to decipher what went wrong to cause the child’s autism in the first place, they are then able to medically treat the child and in some instances even go so far as to reverse the symptoms of autism. Autism after all is nothing more than a set of symptoms. It seems to reason that once you uncover the insult, autism is treatable.

There also exist extremely out-dated, inaccurate, misconceptions about individuals with autism. But one of them being, individuals with autism are not capable of empathy.

Today is a perfect example of how little “they” actually know or understand but that which parents of those with autism would be more than happy to share. I work at our local school. At the end of each school day, my son independently makes his way to my classroom. This semester I happen to be at the opposite end of the building at the day’s end and he often beats me there, as was the case today. The moment I stepped foot into the room, I knew something was wrong. There he stood; such a sad, long face with tears ready to flow at any given moment. All I need do was ask him what was wrong and flow they did. He not only cried; he sobbed. Big, heartfelt sobs ensued. As is common in autism, his communication is somewhat lacking, let alone the sobbing. We were finally able to piece it together; the second graders had watched, “Our Friend Martin,” and he died. My son was heartbroken that anyone would treat others so poorly. He was further saddened that someone evil would dare to kill such a fine person as Martin Luther King, Jr. He was sincerely grief stricken.

I immediately recalled a time when he was but a toddler, not yet able to speak. We didn’t know he had autism. Perhaps, he’d not yet been stricken by it. He was watching Shrek. As the Gingerbread Man’s leg was being broken at the order of Lord Farquaad, our sensitive Sam wept. My son does now and always has boasted empathy.

I hope that it is becoming clear to you why I long ago stopped listening to the “experts” and to the media, which is nothing more than a mouthpiece for their mantra. Besides the genes, the rainfall, the amount of television viewing, the size of your breasts, the age of the mother as well as the age of the father, refrigerator moms and dads, too, marrying your cousin and even evolution; those same professionals just concluded that autism is much more likely to occur in families where the parents are white, wealthy and highly intelligent. Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or flattered by that one. I can’t help being born white or highly intelligent after all. Yes, I realize some of you are now rolling on the floor with laughter. I’m not…….well, wealthy by any means. Hey, they’re your tax dollars too, people!

I have a son. He has autism. But, I also have dream. I dare dream of a world where autism is not only treatable, but a world where autism is also curable and preventable. From this day forward, Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday will always hold historic as well as newly found meaning for our family. It will signify hope for all… matter your color, creed, sex, age or affliction.