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I guess that’s why they call it the blues

March 30, 2016
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Saturday is the day each year we're asked to go blue for autism awareness. The day is sponsored by the organization Autism Speaks. I usually do go blue, even though I don't agree with every part of Autism Speaks, most notably the fact that until recently, they haven't had a member of their board who has autism.

Autism is considered a developmental delay.

Many theories have been floated about its cause. A major study in the late 1990s, which linked vaccines to autism was later discredited. There's no medicine for autism, though many people with autism take meds for ADHD, anxiety, seizures and other issues. There's no particular therapeutic or medical intervention that helps, though some parents of children with a severe place on the autism spectrum say a program called ABA, a system of applied behavior interventions, helped greatly.

I had barely heard of autism when I was young, but knew a neighbor child who didn't speak and was then diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia. As a teen, I watched the movie "Rain Man" with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and thought autism was about obsessing over certain things and desperately needing a consistent routine.

I didn't think much at all about autism until 1997, when, during a Christmas program while the other children were singing, my four-year-old took his arms out of his sleeves and flapped them around, seeming to not really take notice of the performance around him.

By then, the word autism had begun rising in prominence in the media due to the increasing diagnoses. I was a young mom, still in my mid-twenties at the time I first took my preschooler to the doctor to see if autism could explain his periods of zoning out, his sensitivity to loud noise, and other things that made him different from other young boys. He didn't have the signs that seemed to manifest in infancy and toddlerhood. He talked on time, and soon in sentences. As a one-and-two-year-old, he was the life of the party, seemed to meet his milestones on time (and I was an obsessive, motherless, first time mother, poring through the What To Expect Books, CHILD Magazine, and American Baby to figure out if I was doing everything right, so I knew) and was big and healthy.

Except when he wasn't. He started developing pneumonia about every other year, and we didn't know he was really sick or in distress from any outward sign. He did some perplexing things at daycare which we couldn't explain, and when a doctor first prescribed meds for ADHD, they had the opposite affect, making him sluggish instead of jump starting the synapses in his brain that should have made it more possible for him to concentrate and self-regulate.

The rate of autism spectrum diagnoses keeps increasing at an alarming rate, and there's no program or safety net for those autistic adults who don't also qualify for the sort of waiver that would give them a spot anywhere from Echo Plus to my favorite in our state, the Homestead's Farm Program in Altoona, which provides support for adults to be part of a working organic farm and live together in four-person cottages. Our son doesn't qualify due to scoring in the average to slightly above average range on intelligence tests.

Autism is certainly not the only thing he is. He's a wonderful artist, a fantastic big brother to both of his siblings, a humorist, a writer, a gamer, and the foremost authority on both the Marvel and DC comic worlds.

The public's perception of autism has improved dramatically in the time since my son was diagnosed. The movie about animal specialist Temple Grandin, starring Clare Danes, was a sensitive and fantastic portrayal of a person who lives with autism and thrives. The book "Look Me in the Eye" by John Elder Robison was another autobiographical work that shines a light on what it's really like for an adult living with autism. I think the next step families and the public need to take to make an independent life possible for adults with autism is to find community resources and partnerships that can employ the strengths and gifts of these interesting and unique individuals.



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