“Doctors now have a more heightened awareness of autism and are diagnosing it with more frequency, and public schools….which first started using the category of autism during the 1991–1992 school year are reporting it more often….Epidemiologists are also counting it better.” In other words, the author of this academically sound survey assures us, there
is no “autism epidemic.” It’s just that we know more about autism now, and diagnose it better and earlier. After all, Roy Richard Grinker suggests, not so long ago people might have been posing the question, “Where did all these schizophrenics come from?” There were always schizophrenics and autistics in the world. But for too long, we didn’t know how to treat them.
From the earliest “discovery” of autism, there have been suspicions that autism was caused by “cold” parents. This incorrect theory (it is a combination of biological and genetic factors) is sometimes bolstered when exhausted desperate parents appear to treat their autistic children like distant strangers. How much head banging, screaming and enraged outbursts can a loving parent take from their toddler or teen? There’s also the problem of fathers who may offer financial support to the autistic or otherwise disabled child but who can’t stand the suffering that the child brings to the family, and the amount of concentration the child requires from the mother, who simply withdraws, emotionally, physically or both.
Grinker tells us that a vast majority of autistic children are born into families in which both parents are of above-average intelligence. The mother may be a professional, and her seeming absence from home may be blamed for the problems her child experiences, even if this is not a fair appraisal. Though medical assessments of autism are gradually shifting, such attitudes still persist within the psychological profession. The author cites his own struggles to get help for his autistic daughter, Isabel. To obtain a diagnosis, a highly placed professional was consulted. This man directed his questions entirely towards the author’s wife, asking her about infant feeding schedules and time spent with and away from the child. Only toward the end of the interview and at the parents’ insistence did he begin to try to question the child herself, who at eight was terrified by the encounter and spent the whole time trying to get out of the locked office where she obviously felt imprisoned. The “expert” concluded that Isabel’s autism sprang partly from food issues caused by her mother’s neglect.
This book provides a comprehensive history of autism and examines how autism is viewed and treated in other countries, notably India and South Africa. The author wants parents of autistic children to feel that they are not alone. Though he clearly seeks to help people get competent treatment for their odd offspring, he does not reject any rational and kind-hearted method that may offer hope to a family. This makes the book a welcome resource.