Time to think about autism
Normally I don’t blog on Saturdays, but I’m making an exception this year because today is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s the one day out of the year where people are asked to take a moment to consider a disorder which strikes one in 68 children. One in 42 boys and one in 189 girls. It’s an important day for me, as it is for millions of parents, and it ought to be important to you, too.
There are people who love to make fun of the mentally handicapped. Autism is an easy target because it’s become so common, but also because so few people understand what it is, what its symptoms are or, really, anything about the disorder at all.
But you’re reading this, and I’m going to assume you do care. And I’m glad you do, because this problem is going to take all of us to resolve. The kids with autism today will become the adults with autism tomorrow, and since the “deinstitutionalization” movement of the 1980s did away with the supports many mentally disabled people could count on to survive, these autistic adults are going to need to find a place in your community. In that community they’re going to need your care, your attention and, yes, your money, because without those things they’ll die.
“Bully” (A Camaro Espinoza Story)
It was the Miami autumn when Camaro Espinoza felt well enough to work out again. She’d done what she could during a long stretch of recovery, but she felt slow and she felt weaker and these were things she couldn’t live with. On the morning she met Felix she dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt and went barefoot out onto the back patio of her rented house and did stretches with her forehead against her knees.
She followed up with every muscle group, unkinking the knots that had formed over time, and when she was done she felt vaguely sweaty though the temperature hovered around seventy. Sitting on a weight bench, she wrapped her hands, and then she turned her attention to the heavy bag that hung suspended from the patio roof.
Camaro started easily, with light punches that snapped against the battered leather of the bag. When she felt the rhythm, she began to follow up with sharp elbows, digging in deep, striking with power. She grappled with the bag and drove her knees against it. She backed off and kicked, jangling the heavy bag around on its chain. Breath came in steady puffs, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Real perspiration broke out on her skin.
She attacked the bag for over an hour, until her disciplined breathing broke down and she panted. Her body was ablaze, sore spots springing up everywhere. It had been too long.
A warm-down took fifteen minutes, and finally she sat on the weight bench again. She rubbed her arms and legs to keep them from tightening up.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day and this year, as in years past, I’ve decided to take the day as an opportunity to discuss with you the disorder that affects 1 out of 68 American children. The disorder strikes more boys than girls, but only just. It strikes across racial and class lines. It is pernicious and it is growing and we still don’t have any idea what causes it, how it develops, or how to treat it effectively.
When I first started seeing a psychiatrist for meds five years ago, he did a full diagnostic work-up on me and said that, yes, I suffer from Bipolar II, but I manifest a number of traits associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neither of these diagnoses came as a terrible shock, or at least they didn’t in retrospect, because I’d been showing the symptoms of both for my entire life. The bipolar really got hold of me in my teens, but I’d always been an odd child and, in a key developmental track, I’d been significantly behind: speaking. I can speak now (perhaps too much), but sometimes it’s difficult. More crucially, though, I have issues with social cues and behaviors and this has led more than once to me pissing people off when I had no intention of doing so. They assume malice and never stop to consider other causes.
Given that I have the Krazy Straw genes necessary for a couple of disorders, it should probably come as no surprise that my son has suffered. Unlike me, he is firmly on the autism spectrum and suffers the stigma and difficulties associated with that. He’s also, in recent years, become more volatile, which may be a precursor to a full-blown case of bipolar. A double whammy no one would wish on their worst enemy, and I have to stand by and watch it ravage my son every day.
There are some things that work sometimes with some sufferers of autism. There are behavioral therapies that can, if applied early enough and consistently enough, alleviate some of the worst maladaptive ways of the autistic child and adult. Sometimes drugs work, specifically antipsychotics, as these have a tendency to slow the brain down to allow more rational thought. Antipsychotics are most commonly used for people with Bipolar I or Bipolar II, so there’s an added benefit in my son’s case.