Autism Unexpected: Me Too: Spotting Autism While Out and About

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A while back, I was alone at the grocery store checking out, when a man and his son got in line behind me. He asked me a question about one of my items, then we both went back to what we were doing—me using the self-checkout, him chatting with his son.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I started to notice things. I saw the way the boy was acting, I noticed his stims, and I heard the way the father was talking to him, and it started to become clear to me that this kid had a developmental disability similar to my son Jack’s.

I wanted to say, “Me too! Me too! We’re part of the same club!”

But of course I didn’t, because I think that might have been weird.

We chatted a little more, about the M&Ms the boy had non-verbally convinced his father to buy and the fruit that he was going to try to get his kid to eat first. (Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!)

I smiled at them, and when I left, I told the boy, “Enjoy your M&Ms!”

“Say ‘thank you,’” the man said to the boy, just like I have said to Jack a million times before and in the same tone.

I had said, “Enjoy your M&Ms,” but what I really wanted to say was, “I get it. Your son reminds me of mine. Your son is adorable, and you are so good with him. I’m so glad I met you. I get it.”

I have been in this situation so many times. I have been at dinner and watched a teenager pace the perimeter of the patio, holding a Transformers toy and talking to himself repetitively. I have seen a couple at a pizza parlor, with their adult son who had a body posture so familiar to those who know kids on the spectrum. I have watched a mother at an after-school event trying to rein in her kindergartener who was behaving much the same way my son did when he was that age.

Autism can be an invisible disability—unless you know what to look for. I am so immersed in my family’s quirkiness that I feel like it is written across my face, but when I don’t have my kids with me, I know I look just like everyone else. Sometimes our status as special needs isn’t even evident when my kids are around.

When I run across a special needs family, I feel compelled to join them, to let them know that I am part of that special club, to acknowledge that they are doing a great job. But to do so would be to draw attention to the different, to call them out on their otherness.
So instead I smile and chat with the parent. I interact— but don’t force a response—with the child. I don’t intrude, partly to not stress out a child whom I don’t know and partly to not make the parent feel exposed.

But what I want to say is, “Me too. I get it.”

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 14, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Tears of an Autism Mom

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There are many distinctive things about my family, both good and bad, but there are two things that we are notorious for. First, we throw up a lot. I’m not sure why this is, but between carsickness, gastrointestinal issues and general malaise, we more than represent in the regurgitation milieu. The other thing we are—or rather, I am—known for is bursting into tears everywhere.

I’m not going to go into the vomiting thing (you are welcome), but I’ve been doing some thinking about the crying thing, and I have some thoughts about it.

Yesterday, I read Laura Shumaker’s column at SFGate.com in which she writes about autism moms, “We cry spontaneously for what appear to be weird reasons. Our specialty is crying in public and at IEP meetings.”

Boy, is she right. Whenever I bring up this topic, autism moms come out of the woodwork to share their stories of crying in public places when our children struggle, when our frustration at trying to do the right thing for our child tops out or, worst of all, when a complete stranger says a kind word when we’re having a bad day.

I had this experience a few weeks ago when I took my autistic son, Jack, to the third of four dentists in a desperate search to find the right people to take care of his teeth. We walked in, Jack sat in the chair, and a long buildup of stress caused me to burst into tears.

I probably could have recovered fairly quickly but for the fact that the dentist was exceptionally nice to me. Then the other dentist in the practice came over to see what the hubbub was all about and she was nice to me too.

I was a mess for hours.

If you’re looking for a situation most likely to bring tears to the eyes of an autism mom, look no farther than the IEP meeting. These meetings, the high-pressure and sometimes contentious conferences with school personnel to determine what services our kids will get are an empty tissue box waiting to happen.

Basically, this is a meeting that is set up for you to look at all of your child’s weaknesses just before you are forced to contemplate his long-term opportunities. It’s a lethal combination, especially when combined with self-imposed pressure to do everything exactly right so that your child can reach the most of his potential. Factor in a stable of intimidating school or district personnel around the table, and it’s just a matter of how long you can hold off the waterworks.

I have done so much crying at my son’s elementary school, in and out of IEP meetings, that I’m pretty sure the principal was afraid of me for a solid two years because I would cry every time we had a conversation.

I’m better now. Mostly.

Why do I (we) cry so much? I think for many of us, stress builds up and up and up until it has to release somehow. After holding ourselves together and building mental walls in the face of frustrations, obstacles and judgment, the slightest kindness at the right time manages to slip through a chink in the bricks and brings us to our (teary) knees.

There are obviously so many more reasons, each one as unique as each autism mom, but there are so many triggers. After watching our vulnerable children struggle so mightily, our empathy for any kind of creature in peril reaches epic proportions.

We cry when we watch our kids with their typical peers because, even though we tell ourselves not to compare, it is impossible to not see the differences. We know intellectually that all families have challenges and that life isn’t easy for anyone, but sometimes it just seems so overwhelmingly hard for us.

We work so hard all day, every day to improve our children’s chances, yet so much of the time it doesn’t seem like enough. And no matter how meticulously we plan our days, autism has a way of throwing a monkey wrench into the works, shattering the best laid plans into bits.

We watch our children struggle to exist in a world that is not built for them, and that all-too-often doesn’t welcome them. We see our kids who are so good be undervalued and misunderstood and it leaves our hearts raw.

This rawness hits at the most inopportune of times, often making our cars the go-to spot for autism moms to cry. If we’re stuck without a handy car to jump into, sunglasses are pretty good at masking teary eyes, and I’ve heard that blaming allergies can be an effective strategy as well—although less so in the dead of winter.

It’s not all sadness and distress that make us autism moms cry. As a group, we are also extremely susceptible to happy tears, brought on by the simplest of accomplishments. I cry all the time when I watch my son Jack play hockey with his special hockey team—and it is almost always because I am blown away by the good in the world, and only rarely because he is being a pill. There are times when I see true inclusion, whether by an organization or an individual, and it makes me cry every time.

Most of all, we autism moms see joy and beauty in such small achievements as a first joke, a first “I love you,” and the first time they want to play with friends—or the first time someone wants to be friends with them. We hope so strongly and work so hard to get to these small milestones that hearing our children ask an unprompted question can bring tears to our eyes.

Earlier this week at school, I watched my son tap a classmate on the shoulder in order to get her to get the attention of a second classmate, from whom he wanted to borrow a crayon. He was blatantly ignoring the teacher, but the string of desire, organization and social skills that he had to put together to do that made me so proud.

It’s things like this that we autism moms live for. It’s things like this that make us cry happy tears—and it’s happy tears like this that make all the tears of sadness a little better.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 9, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Spotlight On: Autistic Artist Nat Jones

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Nat Jones has been drawing and painting for eight years, which is not surprising for a 13-year-old boy.

What might surprise some, however, is that Nat is autistic, and his purposeful artistic creations have garnered enough attention to earn an exhibit at a cafe in his town, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Nat’s paintings, a mix of water colors, pastels, crayons, markers, colored pencils and even some spit, are on display at Suburban Trading Co. in Kensington, Maryland. His bright art goes a long way to show that even if a person is non-verbal—which Nat is—he still has something to express.

Nat’s father Tom says that he thinks his son finds the act of creating his art relaxing and self-stimulating, without the exhaustion of classic stimming, which is repetitive behavior common in individuals with autism.

“He likes to hum a lot when drawing and gets very close to the lines he is making,” Tom says. “Then he pulls back and adjusts the paper as he sees fit. Many times he will lick his fingers and smudge the lines.”

IMG_3204_t268Liz Jones, Nat’s mother, agrees.

“I think the process is what he enjoys most. He gets a lot of sensory input from it—visual as he selects colors and watches them change as he layers them, visual as he watches his fingers and the brush move to make the strokes, and tactile input from the feel of the brush smooshing paint on the canvas to the feel of a crayon flicking strokes across a piece of paper,” she says.

Sixteen of Nat’s creations are on display at Suburban Trading Co., a family-run cafe offering pastries and prepared foods as well as a hot supper each evening. Co-owner Alison Cavallaro was struck by the detail and intricacy of Nat’s drawings.

“This kid is an artist,” she says. “His work stands on its own and is as worthy to hang on our wall as any other.”

An artist herself,  Cavallaro remembers visiting Nat’s home, where his drawing table in the living room was piled with a stack of drawings next to a box of pastels and around the corner from an easel and a window covered in paint.

“This kid had complete freedom to express himself artistically with no boundaries or constraints,” she says.

For his part, Tom says of his son, “He is a boy full of fun and a bit impish. He loves to laugh. He is a fun person to be around.”

Nat was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and loves to swim, hike and play hockey. When he creates his art, “Most times his face, hands and shirt will be covered in [non-toxic] paints, pastels and markers—a funny sight for sure,” says Tom. “He will put down a drawing and come back to it hours or days later to continue.”

Parents of children with autism, especially those such as Nat who communicate primarily through signing, gestures, prompted verbalization and PECS (picture cards used to help non-verbal individuals express themselves), often seek alternate ways to allow their children to express themselves.

“I think his work is clearly expressive,” Liz comments, adding that “his enjoyment of the patterns and layers he makes with color and line is evident.”

IMG_3210_t268Those patterns and layers are drawn with intention, according to former artist and cafe co-owner Cavallaro.

“He has an amazingly cohesive color pallete,” she says. “Many of his drawings are complete compositions that evoke clear evidence of his emotions. There is intensity in his use of saturated color and strong application of line stroke, and then incredible sensitivity in lines that are as delicate as feathers and color combinations that are completely complimentary and cause immediate response from the viewer.”

According to his parents, Nat takes joy in displaying his art as well. Both parents hang Nat’s art in their homes.

Liz says that when she wanted to hang one of his recent creations in her kitchen, Nat very insistently indicated that he wanted it hung in her living room next to a Kandinsky reproduction.

“So there it hangs,” she says.

When some friends from Nat’s hockey team went to see his exhibit recently, Liz says,

“He was very pleased with himself and chuckled the entire time. I think Nat was starting to understand that what he does is interesting to people beyond himself and his parents.”

“Because of his autism, Nat’s world does not include the language of words,” says Cavallaro, “but he has stories to tell, and he tells them beautifully through his art.”

Suburban Trading Co. is located at 10301 Kensington Parkway in Kensington, Maryland. Nat’s art will be on display through June.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 1, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Is There an Autism Epidemic?

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Nobody really knows what causes autism.

There are a lot of theories wafting around out there. Really, a lot.

One of the most widespread theories is that vaccines cause autism. (Scientifically disproven.) Some people think it is genetic. (I do.) Some people think it is genetic, but kick-started by an environmental trigger. (Seems plausible.)

It seems that every week there is a new study claiming a correlation between Factor XYZ and autism. We’ve come a long way from the days when mothers were blamed for their children’s autism by calling them refrigerator mothers. But — have you heard the claim that mothers who live close to highways have kids with autism? Or that living in a rainy climate leads to autism?

Just today, I read about a study claiming that children conceived in winter were more likely to have autism.

Regardless of cause (and it is also important to note that just because there is a correlation, it doesn’t mean that there is a cause), there is a general belief that there is an autism epidemic. Since my own family has been in the autism world, the data changed from one in 166 children having autism to one in 110.

What is responsible for this increase in diagnosed children on the autism spectrum? Why are more kids autistic now than were autistic 20 years ago? Well, one new study suggests that the rate of autism is the same in adults and children, meaning that the increase in numbers may only indicate an increase in diagnoses and a broadening of the spectrum—not, in fact, an increase in the number of people with autism.

Researchers in England found that adults (ages 16 and older) have about a 1 percent rate of autism, similar to that of children.

The study looked at more than 7,000 adults who participated in an initial interview. Of those, 618 then went through diagnostic assessments. This study is different from previous studies that relied on individuals to self-identify as autistic, thus discovering adults who, prior to the study, did not know that they were autistic.

What does this mean? It seems to indicate that if the adults of years past were subject to today’s awareness and diagnostic practices, that the autism rate may actually have held steady all along.

Is autism just an inherent part of the human condition and, for better or for worse, will 1 percent of humans always be autistic?

For me, this study confirms what I have thought for a long time. While I acknowledge that autism and its causes are incredibly complex, I believed, for a long time, that much of the increase in the autism rate is because of improved awareness and a broadening of the diagnosis.

I imagine that many of today’s Aspergians may not have fit into what was a smaller autism spectrum 40 years ago, but, based on today’s diagnostic criteria, they count as part of that 1 percent. Perhaps without awareness of the red flags of autism, fifteen years ago, a child like my own son would have been labeled as a misbehaving loner, instead of a child with autism.

In fact, I see so many parents of children with autism who don’t understand their own autistic tendencies until their children are diagnosed.

What I do know is that my son has autism, as do millions of other children and adults. Regardless of the cause, we must make sure that these individuals get the treatments and support they need and desire. Whether the rate is increasing or not, these individuals need both services and understanding.

As research progresses, it will be interesting to see where autism rates go from here.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on May 6, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Teaching Social Skills at Home

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It’s 8:45 p.m. and my son Jack and his little brother are supposed to be asleep in the bedroom they share, stacked in bunk beds one atop the other. They, however, are wide awake and chatting with each other.

The mom in me thinks I should march in there, separate them and threaten them to within an inch of their lives if they don’t fall asleep right this very minute!

The autism mom in me, however, is delighted. I can’t tell what they’re chatting about—if I had to guess, I would wager that it is a conversation about a complicated video game mission that the two of them are creating in their minds—but I don’t really care.

They’re talking. One speaks, then the other follows up with a related sentence, and it continues for as long as I listen. It’s not really that big of a deal, unless learning how to hold a conversation is not something that comes naturally to your child.

This is the advantage I have in parenting a child with autism who has both an older and a younger brother. Social skills never stops at my house.

There have been many times when my family is out and about somewhere, and my three kids are running around like the little chaos machines that they are, and I think, “Wow, this would be so much easier with fewer children.” But then I stop and think, “No, really having three kids makes life so much easier.” And that’s not just because they play with each other instead of hassling me to play Candy Land.

My parenting goal when it comes to my children is that I want to make them a unit. I want them to be able to count on each other and be each others’ best friends. I want their brotherhood to be one of their strongest, life-long bonds.

I have long accepted that eventually they will use that bond to become united against me. I am 100% okay with that.

This sibling bond became even more important to me once my middle son, Jack, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum a few years ago. Since then, having one brother ahead of him in school, and one behind, has been nothing short of a godsend. Being sandwiched between brothers has helped in many other ways as well, especially in the social skills arena.

Jack has a fair amount of trouble relating to his peers. While his teachers are fantastic, they don’t have time to try to get him to engage with the other kids as much as he needs. Jack has a social skills group once a week, but an hour of group time cannot make up for the other 167 hours in the week. Adults will socialize with Jack, but that’s not his main problem. He needs to learn to engage with other children.

What Jack does have are brothers. His brothers are constantly socializing with him, pushing him to participate in appropriate social behavior. They ask him questions, they include him in games, they have hurt feelings and desires that require Jack to learn to navigate these kinds of interaction, but in a safe place.

I think that we are doubly fortunate in that Jack has an older brother who paves the way for him (and me!) both in school and coming-of-age experiences. Having an older brother helps Jack reach, stretch and grow. Jack’s younger brother is wonderful because he looks up to Jack so very much, and it is so valuable for Jack to get to be a role model. Not to mention that, in certain things, Jack and his younger brother are very much on the same developmental level, so it is lovely that they can share their interests.

However, learning how to interact with his brothers can’t be the be-all, end-all. They learned his mannerisms and quirks so well that they will often compensate without even thinking about it, letting Jack slide by without utilizing the skills he is learning. It is so important that Jack have typical peers around who don’t know what he’s thinking.

Enter my other sons’ buddies. Because my three kids are so close in age, they like to do many of the same things. When my oldest or youngest son has a friend over, Jack gets to practice his social abilities to figure out how he can get involved in what they are doing.

Plus, his brothers act as a sort of buffer between Jack and other kids, who may not understand his peculiarities.

There are times when we have kids over to play with Jack as well. Those playdates can be hard. It can be exhausting to try to get Jack to engage with a peer for an hour or two. I imagine it’s tough for Jack as well. When Jack (or I) needs a break, his brothers are there to step in and shoulder some of the pressure of playing.

Mundane things can teach social thinking skills when you do them all day, every day. Even something as simple as filing into the bathroom at night to brush teeth can be a lesson in patience and turn taking.

Having two brothers helps Jack with so much in the social skills milieu. I believe that the more success and fun he has with his brothers, the more interested he gets in non-familial children. Having brothers around helps Jack see that there are benefits to interacting with other kids. Furthermore, my other children can be role models for typical behavior. (Although, frankly, they have their own quirks, too.)

All this said, there are downsides. Families with only children have so much more time and resources to spend with their autistic child. When you’re focused on only one child, it is so much easier to target exactly what he or she needs; there is no other child with competing desires. Every time I’m waiting for Jack in a speech or occupational therapist’s waiting room with my other kids, I think about how much easier it would be with just the one.

Let me tell you also, that it’s not all smiles and sunshine in my household. Yes, my kids all get along and play together beautifully—when they’re not screaming at each other and trying to commit fratricide.

Still, for my family, the benefits outweigh the negatives. More than anything else, I am so grateful that Jack gets to experience the greatest social benefit of all: having two best friends who accept him as he is. Yes, they get frustrated sometimes and, yes, sometimes Jack gets annoyed, but for a child who wants to socialize, as Jack does, having two willing bodies nearby is the best thing we could hope for.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on April 26, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Does Autism Awareness Day Matter?

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Today is world autism awareness day. Each year, when autism awareness day rolls around, I wonder why we make such a big deal about an arbitrary day in April.

Who doesn’t know about autism yet?

With 1 in 110 children affected, everyone has to know someone with autism. I am so aware, every single day, of autism. I wonder why we need to bother.

And then I remember. I remember that before I had a child with autism, that although I knew autism existed, I didn’t really know anything about it. It just seemed like this scary, terrible thing that happened to other people.

I remember seeing children and teenagers acting out in public and judging them and their parents without even thinking that there might be an underlying disability. I would see people with certain stims, repetitive and awkward movements, and feel uncomfortable, not knowing how much I should acknowledge them.

I remember that I would look at people with obvious developmental or intellectual disabilities—although I didn’t know the difference between them then—and feel nothing but sadness for them. Do they wish they could be normal?, I would wonder.

I remember that I had no idea that people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are normal, just not the same as you and me. I didn’t know that people with severe disabilities could be happy, productive, worthwhile members of society. I didn’t know that people who couldn’t talk could communicate. I didn’t know that these children and adults were deeply loved and the lights of their families’ lives.

I assumed that having a child with these disabilities would be devastating and life destroying.

This was me, five years ago.

This might be you, today.

This is why we need to work so hard to spread awareness. People who are unaware are not bad people. I wasn’t a bad person back then. I was in favor of helping people with disabilities, but I didn’t spend much time thinking about them. I just didn’t know, and I didn’t think I had a reason to learn.

My son Jack and his autism diagnosis were my impetus to learn and to be aware, but I wish I’d bothered even before then. A lot of people assume that things like autism awareness don’t affect them, but they do. Autism affects me, and it affects you.

Your child will have a classmate with autism, who will be treated well or treated badly, in part based on how you teach your child.

You will have a coworker with autism, who will be embraced for her quirks and abilities, or ostracized for being weird.

You will run into a residential home outing at the mall, and you will have the choice to walk by quickly with your head down, or give them the same attention and respect you give other shoppers, or maybe even more, knowing they won’t get it from everyone.

Your tax dollars will be spent on government early education programs and special education or it will be spent later, after the system has failed these children who might have had bright futures in a society with more forethought.

You might give birth to a child with autism. If you do, you will see the gifts that having a special needs child brings. You will understand how hard it can be. Your eyes will open to the joy that comes with it. You will know that your child with autism is just as precious as any other child and will grow up to be an adult with autism, who is no less important because of his developmental disability.

You will need the world to be aware of and accepting of your beautiful child.

This could be you in five years.

This is me, now.

This is why autism awareness day is important to me. This is why even though sometimes I get tired of talking about autism, I continue to do so. Every single person I reach is someone who might be able to make my son’s life, or the life of another person with autism, better.

I hope that my awareness and acceptance message reaches someone new today. I hope that this person will then spread that message to another and then another. I hope that this message can help.

This is my autism awareness day.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on March 30, 2011.

Autism Unexpected: Parents Magazine vs. the Autism Community?

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It all started when Jennifer Ethirveerasingam looked at her April issue of Parents magazine. Mother to a child with autism and aware that April is Autism Awareness Month, she began to page through the magazine, looking for an article—anything—about autism. Finding nothing, she told some friends, who posted on the Parents magazine Facebook page under the heading “Lack of Autism Coverage.”

“What a missed opportunity to raise awareness, provide information and to include families with autism in your parenting discussions,” wrote Beth Andersen, the first to broach the topic on the magazine’s wall.

Within hours, this slight gained traction in the online autism community, collecting dozens of comments on the Facebook posting and inspiring a string of posts around the blogosphere criticizing the magazine for neglecting a demographic that makes up a sizable chunk of the parenting population.

Alysia Butler, author of the blog Try Defying Gravity, says that a few words from Parents could make a real difference in the lives of both parents already living with children with autism and those who might need intervention in the future.

“Maybe I would have had my son diagnosed sooner had I read an article on red flags, or maybe I wouldn’t have felt so alone if I had seen a story on how families are thriving despite their child’s diagnosis,” Butler wrote in her comment on the Facebook page. “I appreciate that you have some information sprinkled throughout the year, but a special section in April would have meant so much to so many.”

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Parents’ only mention of autism in the April issue.

Parents‘ initial response on their Facebook page was to point out the sole item in the April issue mentioning autism, a paragraph about bed tents, which some parents use to keep their children from wandering at night.

Not satisfied with that response, or the information that Parents has two online-only articles in the works, comments continued to roll in. Two days into the conversation, Parents chimed in again, apologizing for making families of children with autism “feel dismissed or unappreciated.”

“We would like to say again how grateful we are for your feedback and for the reminders in the last 48 hours that autism is not just 1 in 110,” they posted. “It’s about real people and real families.” Parents followed up with a request for autism families to submit their stories for inclusion in a blog series.

Mixed reaction ensued, most notably outrage that online-only articles of print magazines are far less likely to be read than print versions of the same magazine that tend to sit in pediatrician offices for months at a time.

Ethirveerasingam, who writes a blog called The Adventures of Boy Wonder about her son with autism, says that she is disappointed in the magazine’s response. “No one will see our stories. They haven’t helped anyone who is now wondering about their child or made the 1 in 110 [subscribers] who are living with autism feel like their children matter.”

Beth Andersen, who started the “lack of autism coverage” thread, says, “Families with autism are sick and tired of being marginalized and left out of the discussions. There are enough of us out here that, when we raise our voices together, we demand to be heard.”

Calling the unceasing need for advocacy one of the hardest parts of living with autism, Andersen continues, “It is exhausting. I think so many of us are simply saying, ‘stop making it so hard for us to live like normal families and have at least some measure of peace—some downtime from the constant advocacy and educating.’”

With so many parenting topics to choose from, no magazine can cover all subjects. Does a nearly 1 percent autism rate merit special coverage of the topic? What is the responsibility of a parenting magazine to alert new parents to the red flags of developmental delays? If, as one Facebook commenter wrote, “By ignoring autism in your magazine this month, you send a message that families like ours just don’t matter,” how can such a magazine manage to include all parents? Should they try?

Parents magazine Editor-in-Chief Dana Points says that although they have covered autism in their print versions over the past year and have another story about autism in their inventory for an upcoming print issue, they were not aware how much April meant to the autism community.

“There is no other community that I can think of that has responded so forcefully,” she says. “The importance of the month of April is something that is very interesting to me. Might we do something next April? Absolutely. Will be ignore it until then? Heck, no.”

Points says that she knows Parents can’t publish on every topic she would like to, but that, she says, “is the beauty of Facebook and our online community. [Parents] have a voice, and we listen.” She does say she understands that many readers are angry at the magazine and that one of the lessons she has learned from autism parents’ reactions is that having these issues recognized in print matters.

What does the future hold for autism and Parents? Points says that they have already received 50 submissions for their blog series, which will be posted in April. She also said that they are likely to comment on the situation in their June issue, which they are currently working on. “I’ve thought over the past few days that there are things we can do in print,” Points says, “but we might not wait for next April.”

Whether autism parents will be around to read those articles remains to be seen. What is for sure is that these parents want stories about their children in the public domain.

Ethirveerasingam says that she wants people to know that as challenged as her son is, “He matters. His life has meaning and value. When our children with autism are dismissed, it breaks my heart. He has made me stretch and grow in ways I didn’t think I was capable of doing. He has made me a better person.”

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on March 21, 2011.