This week alone, I’ve come across two ‘cures’ for autism. The first one, “N.J. Doctor Says Hyperbaric Chamber Cures Autism” came via e-mail, and the other, “Most Experts discuss the autism problem: Now hear a solution” sidetracked me in the form of a half-page ad in Time Out New York (which I was reading to plan an extremely overdue night out with my husband, but which I suspected he would forgive me for postponing yet again, especially if it meant a cure for autism).
For new special needs parents, let me apologize for appearing flip and assure you that I am brimming with hope for my 5-year-old autistic son’s future. But in my experience, any organization or individual who claims a one-size-fits-all, guaranteed success is, at best, well-intentioned but mistaken, and at worst, attempting to exploit a desperate population: parents who would do anything to save our kids.
Fortunately, there was also a break from miracle cures: Melissa Fay Greene’s “Reaching an Autistic Teenager,” which chronicles the experiences of a few teenage boys with autism at a private school in Georgia. I’m familiar with the complex and nuanced development disorder Greene portrays. One autism school director captures the difficulty of choosing one particular type of intervention over another: “You meet one child with autism and, well, you’ve met one child with autism.”
The article provides a primer on the two major intervention approaches: Stanley Greenspan’s D.I.R./Floortime approach (used in the Georgia school) and Applied Behavior Analysis (A.B.A.). I will compare and contrast (and also congratulate and complain about) our experiences with both of these approaches in upcoming posts.
I have to be honest: It’s painful for me to read about autistic teenagers. My son started Early Intervention when he was 18 months old, and we have pinned all our fragile hopes on the belief that his brain chemistry will change. And we’ve seen some proof: The other day, for the first time ever, my son played hide-and-seek in the park with two other children. It was a spectacularly breathtaking moment. But the next morning, instead of having a conversation with me, he chose to talk to himself: “Do you want to take Nagle to Broadway, or Hillside to Nagle? Those are your choices. Which one do you choose? Hillside to Nagle? Okay. We’ll take Hillside to Nagle.”
We’ve seen him outgrow and conquer other challenges. We believe that he will overcome these as well. We choose to believe. But we also read articles about teenagers with autism. So we believe…with a melancholy asterisk.
And something else: Those miracle cures that I summarily dismiss? The ones I have fully investigated and, at the deepest core of my being, believe will not help my son? They haunt me. We should have tried B12 injections. We should have tried Tomatis. We should have tried Glutithione. Guess I’ll just add Hyperbaric Chamber to the list.