Saturday, May 13, 2006

Autism reviewed

Update 5/13: Since first writing the post I've kept below, I've realized that the review bothers me.

I think I know why; it's fundamentally superficial, if not supercilious. The reviewer assumes a mantle of perspective and wisdom, but on reflection he seems more haughty than wise. His pretended compassion rings false, his professed admiration of "heroic parents" smells of gratitude for a burden avoided.

The truth is, a child that does not connect with other children can still have deep ties to their loved ones, even if their "snuggles" are fleeting. A child with an obsession for pattern and structure can still be sweet, kind, funny, charming and loving -- and not only to his (or her) parents.

A child who has a full (by human standards) range of emotional capabilities can, in contrast, still be nasty and spiteful. An adult who is autistic can be a good friend and honorable, an adult who is not autistic can be vile. The disorder, or the lack of the disorder, is not the person.

The parent of an autistic children may be heroic (or not), but this is not unique. There is a vast amount of suffering in the world. Only a privileged and lucky few in the wealthy world grow to adulthood without a good serving of pain. Most of us bear burdens, even joyful burdens, and perhaps to bear them well is somehow a credit, but it is not a rare thing.

-- Original Post

The London Review of Books has a fairly extensive discussion of autism. Parts of it are good, parts are confused, parts are bad. It doesn't hang together all that well. Worth a quick scan. He does bring up one of the more interesting questions -- what really is the natural history of autism?

I've a hunch that autistic behaviors wax and wane during a child's life (makes it darned hard to tell what's really helping or hurting) but that many higher IQ autistic children will show significant improvement given a reasonably supportive environment .....

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