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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Autism = Evolution

Whenever I say those words out loud it turns more than a few heads in the room and raises eyebrows.  Before you raise yours in my general direction, you should know I’ve put a lot of thought into it, as it’s not a subject I take lightly – as I am the mother of a 13 year old son who was diagnosed with autism in 2000 – just hear me out. 

 

For the past decade, our family has lived with the shrapnel of autism flying all around our heads: a series of screeching tantrums (the terrible twos stretched out from 2 – 8 years old); wild episodes of fight and flight; self-injurious behavior; multiple methods of intervention, therapies and special restrictive diets.  There was also a good chunk of change given away to what amounted to snake oil funds (when all was said and done), because although many childhood disabilities and diseases bring out the altruism in people, the murky waters of autism seem to have parted to reveal loads of unproven methods by fly-by-night therapists who feed on the hopelessness of families willing to sacrifice everything to find a “cure” for their child.  What exactly is it about autism that we, as loving, caring parents, are so eager to cure?  Well, the diagnosis criterion for autism is divided into three domains:

 

  • Impaired social interaction
  • Delayed, impaired or complete lack of communication
  • Restricted, stereotyped and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests and activities

 

These three areas of basic human interaction are crucial to the normal development of a child and some autistic kids are slow to retrain their behaviors to the neurologically typical standards while others never do during their lifetime.

 

Developmental Pediatricians all shout, “Early intervention!” but I believe they sugarcoat and should say, “Early, relentless, seemingly never-ending intervention, at any cost!”  As parents we are desperate and right away start to jump through hoops in an attempt to push-and-push our little square autistic pegs to fit the round neurologically typical holes of society, but taking a step back, I am questioning the logic in that.

 

Having lived with autism for quite a while now, I can tell you that it has been a long process that constantly proves one thing: growth is painful.  Developmental growth, as childhood textbooks define it, is all a bit “through the looking glass” and comes in spurts or not at all.  It can be disheartening, yet, there are days when I look at my son and I truly perceive him to be so far above us, it’s a bit spooky.  While he doesn’t quite fit the so-called normal social mold (to the point of ridicule from some of his school peers), most of it rolls off his stiffly arched and awkward back, seemingly unnoticed.  He is not very comfortable around crowds of people, which he sometimes literally defines as three’s a crowd and he’ll retreat to his room to interact with his computer — antisocial behavior at it’s finest, but after all, isn’t that the way we’re all moving?

 

Think about it.  Technology has made such advances over the last twenty years that face-to-face interaction is no longer necessary in nearly every aspect of day-to-day living.  Practically everything you need can arrive at your doorstep via a delivery person whose eyes don’t even need to be seen under the brim of their cap… it’s all just sign here, m’am or simply left on the porch.  Countless products and services can be viewed via your computer monitor, television set, magazine or catalog.  A simple phone call, click of a mouse or touch of app button from anywhere and items can be ordered instantly 24 hours a day.  The people who tend to those ordering centers are, more often than not, housed in tiny personal cubicles where they can choose whether or not to intermingle with their fellow employees … usually opting not to.

 

We don’t ever have to contemplate folding, spindling or mutilating currency as our finances are bandied about via Direct Deposit or ATM machines, then disbursed by debit and credit cards — requiring no human interaction, not even a perfunctory, “Here’s your change.” from clerks is needed anymore.  The machines handle all of our transactions and we’re issued a mechanical, “Have a nice day” as we exit through electronic doors.

 

If we don’t want any human interaction at all we can visit the self-service pay island where we become shopper, checker and bagger never needing to see a human being unless we require assistance.  Very Jetsons, indeed. Very autism-friendly.

 

The Space Age is upon us and we’ve barely noticed its arrival, just thinking that all of these technological advances were introduced for our convenience.  But I believe that the children of autism are adapting and evolving to the world WE are creating, whether we like it or not.  Again, growth is painful – more so for us, than them.

 

It may sound all conspiracy theorist of me, but I sometimes I wonder if it isn’t actually technology’s fault that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism.  With the increase of wireless electrical activity in our world, little developing brains are bombarded with electrical impulses.  And I’m not completely wacko, alone and mad in my thinking either.  Dr. Rodolfo Llinas, chairman of the physiology and neuroscience department at the New York University School of Medicine says, “All brain activity is basically electrical chattering between cells."  According to biophysicist Dr. Gerard Hyland of the UK, “Our brain is a very delicate biochemical and electrical instrument and incoming oscillating waves affect our health.”   Hmmm… wouldn’t it sort of make sense then, that there would be a hitch in the giddyup somewhere?

 

Despite however the outside world may have contributed to the possibility of altered brain patterns, it doesn’t change the simple fact that people with autism are very uncomfortable with human interaction.  Neurological deficits make it physically painful to subject themselves to sound, touch, smell, sight and even taste, which is a pretty big detriment to socialization since so much of our social interaction is through eating.  So, it stands to reason that the world that technology is creating suits an entire body of people with autism just fine, thank you very much.  The world of technology brings tremendous comfort in many ways to a person with autism.  Hence, my autism = evolution theory.

 

While I have watched legions of therapists and educators working to push, prod, pull and coax my boy into “a normal world”, I think they all might be missing the boat, ignoring the possible beauty of the world he inhabits.  When my son retreats to the technological realm that soothes and comforts his anti-social savage beast, I wonder who’s right and who’s wrong?

 

Anthropologists have seen evidence of man’s social ways throughout the centuries – ceremonial artifacts and writings that show man’s need to connect with other human beings, whether to war or woo.  The lives we live today will not offer as much proof of that same need to bond when they go digging through the rubble (or landfills) of the 21st century.  Perhaps history will eventually prove that our scientific advances propelled man in another direction – away from basic human interaction.  Maybe it’s even as drastic a notion as over-population leading us to down-size.  Scary thought, but nobody ever said evolution was gentle on those left behind in the dust as fossils.

 

When first told about my child’s diagnosis of autism it was devastating and each day after brought waves of anguish, anger, guilt and grief – but not any more.  I have decided that I prefer not to view autism as a disability, but as a new generation’s coping ability, as I watch my son and others like him change as the world around them changes.  Despite my having developed the way the textbooks deemed “typical”, many of my child’s currently perceived deficits may truly turn out to be bonuses that will assist him in a world I might not recognize … or even fit into one day.  I have a whole other theory about space travel and benefits of being autistic, too – if you want to email me (tkatz@tkatz.com) or chat via Facebook (after all, heaven forbid we try to meet in person and make <gasp!> eye contact)!

One thought on “Autism = Evolution

  • nan madruga says:

    I’m in complete agreement with you on this one my friend! It’s all a matter of perspective…and I find myself enjoying the perspective of those who don’t fit in the round holes much more than my own!
    love you,
    N

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