Personal Experience With Autism
I live in Bristol, Virginia, which is a twin-state city, as it borders the line of Virginia and Tennessee. The welcome sign states that the population is 44,000, but I think that's a figure encompassing the surrounding areas as well as the city proper. The city's "claim to fame" is the Bristol Motor Speedway which is on the NASCAR cup circuit.
In this very small town, I personally know several people who are either autistic or have an autistic child. The odds of someone personally knowing such a number of persons/children with this specific disorder in one area is very great. Yet here I am and there they are.
A 20-something young man that works at the local McDonald's has autism. My boyfriend's neice has an autistic son. A former manager at Walmart has an autistic son. A married couple we used to be very good friends with have an autistic son. Another single mother friend of ours has an autistic son. All boys, ranging in age from five to 23.
Autism is a disorder that the medical profession knows almost nothing about. They do not know what causes it or contributes to its cause, and only speculate with regard to what might be a potential risk factor (drugs, genetics, IQ, etc). There is no cure. There aren't even really any definitive symptoms of autism, just a wide range of potential behaviors that may indicate that a child has the disorder.
In 2010, one in every 100 children is born autistic. The rate of children born autistic has increased nationwide approximately 57% to 84% in the past decade (figures vary based on geographic region). Autism is 4 times more likely to occur in boys than girls.
Among the people I know with autistic children, there is a vast disparity in their parenting methods. Some of them treat their child no better than the family dog...pat him on the head, give him a bowl of dry cereal, and tell him to go play. He's treated like he has a problem, so he'll grow up acting like he has a problem. Another couple treats their child like he's no different from his "normal" siblings, and he acts, plays, and communicates in a way that shows very little difference from them. Another just throws up her hands and says, "Well, he's got the mind of a three year old so what can I do?" And yet another seems insistent upon the fact that her son has a "problem" and he should be treated "special" because you can't possibly treat him like he's "normal" since he's so obviously not. And then there's the 23 year old, who holds a job, drives a car, carries conversations, cracks jokes, has dreams and goals and aspirations, loves football, and is able to perform in an adult capacity with very little sign of his disorder.
Some of the parents of these autistic children spend as much time as they can with their "special needs" child, talking and playing, reading and drawing, hiking and engaging in sports. Other parents spend as little time as possible with their child, banishing the child to another room and barely acknowledging that the kid exists, except to feed the child and then send it to bed at bedtime. Some parents have more than one child and the other children are not autistic, and they treat the autistic child as though he/she is deserving of better treatment than the other child(ren) simply because he/she is mentally challenged. Trust me, the other children see this, recognize it for what it is, and not only resent the parents for the disparate treatment but also resent the "special" sibling(s) for it, too.
Sometimes, when discussing autism with some of these parents, they claim that their child is less autistic than they clearly are, or that they are autistic when a diagnosis of mental retardation would be vastly more accurate, or that their child is "so different" from other autistic children because he/she does "this" or "that" in a way that is atypical of autistic children (which, to me, would mean that he/she isn't actually autistic at all). If asked how they know their child is autistic, they generally received the diagnosis from one physician when they child was very young (before preschool age) and at a time when nearly all "normal" children exhibit behaviors that are diagnostically symptomatic of autism. They didn't get a second or third opinion, and overdose their children on medication to "treat" the disorder, one that the child was probably misdiagnosed with in the first place.
Other parents can be educated on what can or cannot help with management of their autistic child, agree that it should be done, and then ignore it. For example, some autistic children can have their symptoms drastically minimized just by changing their diet. Eliminating caffeine and excess sugar. Tell a parent that and see what happens. They agree with you and then do nothing. Basically, they are demonstrating how little concern they have for their child. Just because an allegedly autistic child might prefer a diet consisting solely of chicken nuggets, PopTarts, or vanilla ice cream DOES NOT mean that he/she should be given that sort of half-assed nutrition. A child will eat whatever you put on the table in front of them if they get hungry enough, and no parent should ever let their children dictate what should be served for dinner on a regular basis...autistic or not.
I believe very strongly that the WORST thing any of these parents can do is treat their child like he/she has a disorder. If you single your kid out in any way, they know it, even if they do have the intellectual capacity of a three year old. If you treat them different, they will feel and act different. If you make concessions for their "disorder" they will expect special treatment. All this does is further handicap them and set them up for failure in their futures, because if you treat a child like he/she is a child all their life, that's all they will know.
Also, one of the worst things the parent of an autistic child can do is act like he/she already knows all there is to know about autism. I know quite a bit and have done a great deal of research, just because I know so many people with autistic kids. I wanted to be able to discuss their children in an intelligent and informed way. There are things I know that they don't, and to assume they can't learn anything new about their child is yet another way they will cripple their child's development in the future.
Autism is increasing steadily and has already overtaken most childhood disorders. With all the diseases and disorders in our world today that CAN be diagnosed, cured, or treated, why is this one so vastly different and such a challenge to learn anything about?