Shifting Focus: 8 Facts About Autism the Media Is Not Covering
1. Autism Is Unaffordable
I'd love to see more media focus on how ridiculously expensive it is to treat a child with autism. You can counsel folks all day long to get early intervention, but who in the world can pay for it? Therapies can average over $100-$150 an hour - many require up to 14 or more hours a week. With insurance companies still not covering the vast amount of therapies needed, too many families are forced to pay out of pocket for much of these expenses. A 2006 Harvard study puts the average cost of services for an individual with autism is $3.2 million over his/her lifetime! A total of $35 billion a year is spent on services for individuals with autism in the U.S. The numbers have climbed since then...
Bottom line is treatment is completely and ridiculously unaffordable and can financially bring a family to its knees... even in good times.
Families live on pins and needles with hopes that they're doing the right thing. But the fact is for too many, the things we want to do are simply out of reach financially. I can think of no worse scenario than not being able to afford to help your child.
2. Parental Guilt
So if you are blessed enough to afford it, in my experience it seems that some kids can improve tremendously with a mix of intensive behavioral, biomedical and other treatments. But the fact is so many likely will never be "recovered" and nothing, I mean nothing, makes a parent feel more guilty than thinking you could've "fixed" your kid but... well you didn't or couldn't afford to. If you have a child who is non-verbal and severely impacted by autism, for example, and all you want to hear is him speak or just use the word "no" appropriately, it can be maddening to hear that someone else did x, y or z and now their kid is no longer on the spectrum at all. So many parents have shared with me how badly they feel about this. And although I personally have broken my butt for my son and though he has overcome many challenges we were told he would not, he still has autism. What could I have done better? Oh the guilt! Don't get me wrong, I am always elated for any child's success in this journey, but it can be very hard to swallow at times-making you feel like a failure. Just one Dad’s opinion, keeping it real...
Alas, accepting my son's progress or lack thereof is the key to moving forward with my head up.
3. Puberty Plus Autism Can Be a Volatile Mix
Our son is almost 7 and puberty is often on my mind what will happen to him.. Oftentimes kids on the spectrum can start puberty prematurely, and it can be an extremely jarring experience.
A dear friend of mine Kosmos explains puberty's effect on autism like this: "[Puberty is] an 'oy vey' for a normal child but it can send hormones racing in a child with autism that they don't know how to deal with."
The hormonal surge can cause violent and unpredictable behavior. Stress and depression can develop accompanied by social ostracism.
His son had suddenly regressed recently after making so much progress, bringing us a new set of challenges we hadn't anticipated. We always always remain extremely hopeful and have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams with what he has been able to overcome to this point. But puberty has been a challenge more parents need to be prepared for. It can be a completely different dynamic at this age. Let's get that out there, please.
4. Minority Children are Diagnosed with Autism Years Later Than Other Children
There are a lot of mysteries about autism. But one thing we know, according to a study covered by CNN:
if a child is diagnosed with autism as early as 18 months of age, offering the toddler age-appropriate, effective therapy can lead to raised IQ levels and improved language skills and behavior.
That's why the fact that African American, Asian and Hispanic children tend to be diagnosed much later than other children (sometimes 2-5 years later) is extremely concerning and needs more attention. One reason these children are diagnosed later is that there are more barriers for socio-economically challenged families to access information. Certain developmental milestones are ignored, unknown or overlooked. Another part of the reason is that there are some cultural and social stigmas about mental health and a fear of talking openly or seeking help for them. So the hope often is that the child will just grow out of it. We just need way more infiltration of autism information and support in minority communities, which will hopefully result in earlier diagnosis. I've visited black churches with this message letting them know they can be extremely helpful in this effort. We can't allow the window for "age-appropriate, effective therapy" to close on these kids.
5. Autism Can Be Tough on A Marriage
Autism is not a divorce mandate. Often it can bond a family tighter. But too often the financial and/or emotional toll autism can take leaves some couples feeling distanced from each other. This was the case with our marriage. My Wife and I narrowly survived statistic status. But over the last 5 years I have marveled at his ability to evolve as a father and husband during this bumpy ride tha
Meeting Tommy Elison telling me about. His personal revelation was that he had to adjust his expectations of his son. Our hope is that we can help so many dads (and moms) confront these challenges without feeling so alone. Tommy has taught me that men process things so differently. I could have been more patient and empathetic with respect to that... a book like this might have offered me that insight earlier on.
Couples digging deep to find the strength and resources to take on this fight together may be rewarded by actually connecting more deeply through this journey instead of being fractured by it.
6. Autism's Effect on Siblings
We don't see too much coverage about what the siblings of autism endure.
Ruined play dates, family outings cut short due to a brother's or sister's public meltdown, feelings of neglect, life planned exclusively around the affected child, social stigma... the list goes on.
It can be devastating for a typical child to have to grow up in such an environment. Sibs are often overlooked and really need a bit of attention; parents need tips to help the siblings cope.
7. Adults Living with Autism
The face of autism is changing. Our children grow up. Understandably, every parent stresses about what will become of their child with autism in adulthood. It's my own personal recurring nightmare. We ask ourselves: How will he make it in this cruel world without me? Will he live on his own? Will he ever get married or have meaningful relationships? Who will protect his heart? Our fears in this area can consume us.
Here are a few sobering facts:
•More than 80% of adults with autism between 18 and 30 still live at home (Easter Seals)
•There is an 81% unemployment rate among adults with autism (CARD)
•78% of families are unfamiliar with agencies that could help them (CARD)
•At least 500,000 children with autism will become adults during the next decade, and they will need homes, jobs, friends and a future
The good news is many adults living with this disorder live very fulfilling lives, but too many face a variety of difficulties including anxiety, depression, anger and social isolation.
We must create meaningful respectful futures for adults with autism that include homes, jobs, recreation, friends and supportive communities. They are valuable citizens!
How glorious would it be to get more media attention on this particular issue.
And bravo to Fox Searchlight Pictures for their beautiful and enlightening film Adam, which gave great insight into what it is like for a young man with Asperger's syndrome to live and thrive on his own.
8. Autism Advocates Who Actually Have Autism:
What a concept! Rarely do you hear any stories in the media about people actually affected by autism ever weighing in on the issues surrounding it. Because people on the spectrum may seem disengaged, they hear you talking about them and can develop frustration at not being able to respond to issues that affect them. We all need to remember that...
I have had some enlightening and profound conversations with folks on the spectrum who have made it very clear that they feel completely excluded from any national autism conversation. I've had some ask me to be very mindful about my language when speaking about autism. For example, several have said to me they cringe at the word "cure." Many have expressed that they feel this was their destiny, that they were born this way so stop trying to "cure me." Whatever our views or personal agendas, we have to respect that.
Others have been frustrated by the polarizing issues disproportionately covered in the media and would prefer for us neuro-typicals to focus that energy towards trying to understand their world, how they see things. "Come into my world!" one 25 year old young man with Asperger's told me passionately.
I am also so grateful to HBO for recently airing the sensational Temple Grandin, finally giving us an image in the media of an adult with autism advocating beautifully and articulately for others like herself.
Bottom line: Their opinions should be heard, valued and included.
So here's to breaking off 8 rays of the media spotlight towards some other important autism issues. Families affected by autism deserve more than just fiery headlines; we deserve a 360 degree, multi-faceted conversation. Spread the word!