By James Terminiello
Special to the Times
In 1991, a torpedo blasted the engine room of our little family when doctors confirmed that our 3-year old son Alex was autistic. They said: “The little boy you knew is dead, but a new one has come along whom you will also love.”
That rather oblique optimism was tempered with warnings that Alex might throttle his baby sister in her crib.
Fast forward to today. I recently saw a t-shirt that read “Autism, Different, Not Less.” Clearly, times have changed, and so has what we call autism. The definition of “autistic” has expanded beyond reasonable bounds, leaving those who truly suffer in the dust.
That clumsily worded t-shirt speaks directly to a rebranded autism. The media are full of stories of the “autistic” who writes plays, achieves marvels on the basketball court, or gets swindled by a used car dealer.
What do these items have in common? They have no bearing whatsoever with the experiences and suffering of those who must daily face what I can only call “autism prime.” Such people exist in a swirling, nearly impenetrable world of their own punctuated by violence, lack of articulate speech, weird obsessions, incredible indifference and a hundred other heart-breaking negatives.
When my son was born, autism was still a largely unknown, baffling condition that effectively destroyed the lives of three in 10,000 children. Today, autism has become a Hollywood-fueled, pop-culture phenomenon purportedly impacting as many as one in 95 kids. The attention it gets drives funds in the direction of research and has begotten programs that will give my son some semblance of a life after my wife and I are gone.
So, what’s the problem? It all sounds positive.
but really no. Today, autism seems to encompass individuals with
personality quirks and slight disorders who otherwise carry on with
their lives. That fastidious guy in the office who lines his pencils in
size order and has no friends may be lightly tinged by autism. On the
other hand, he holds a job, owns a car, pays rent and earns $75,000 a
year. Should he really be placed on the autistic spectrum? Read the full editorial Opinion: Expanded definition of 'autism' goes astray.
And thank you to James Terminiello.