I swore I wouldn't waste a lot of time dealing with Michael Savage, the radio talk show scold, who recently made the ridiculous claim that the autism epidemic is caused by bad parenting. But perhaps there is one more thing that needs to be said: Mr. Savage, if only you were right. If only it was true that the kids are mere brats and all we need is a visit from The Nanny.
If you were right, then life would be monumentally easier for most of us.
We could dump the special education classes -- and the legal battles over them. We could pay our last uninsured medical bills to the brave doctors who are bucking the system to find a cure. We could flush the last costly round of food supplements down the toilet. We could go to a restaurant without whispering "hands in pockets" to our kids to remind them not to touch anyone else's plate. We could hear some of them who can't speak, or haven't spoken in years say "Mom." Just "Mom." Or "Dad."
We could go to bed at night without worrying what will happen to our kids when we die.
And all it would take would be to brush up our parenting skills.
Like "brushing up your Shakespeare?" As easy as that?
Oh, if only it was true, "Doc" Savage, you of the Ph.D. in epidemiology and nutritional science. Did your coursework happen to include a class in common sense?
Seventeen years ago our son Daniel -- yes, like many autism families we have a strong father figure -- stopped talking at the age of three and a half after being able to converse at varying levels in four languages. He lost all of his toilet training, ate glass from the playground and didn't care a whit for any of his beloved toys. In researching what the hell could have happened to him, I read about an old and discredited theory that blamed cold mothers for autism -- thank you Bruno Bettelheim -- and discarded it quickly, myself. Mommy nursed -- for almost a year. Mommy hugged. Mommy took Danny all over the world holding him in a cuddly and then in a kid-carrier type backpack so he could see the sights while feeling safe and close. When he began to walk -- early -- I held his hand and, together we explored Latin America and Asia.
Not long after the diagnosis, I caught my mother in-law flipping through an article about Bettelheim. "You know," she said. "It would be easier if he was right." Her wry, dark humor was something I always appreciated, even when the times were equally dark. "At least then you would know how to fix the kid."
Michael Savage, my mother-in-law had as many degrees as you do and hers were in special education, a coincidence that, as sad and ironic as it was, turned out to be a blessing for us as well. Often over the years with Daniel -- many of our struggles have been chronicled here on the Huffington Post -- I have fantasized that all it would take to make Daniel "normal" again would be the right therapist -- or nanny -- for me. I am smart. I am determined. I am goal-oriented. I, too, have published books and I have taught at universities. If such a human being existed, I would have found him, or her, by now.
Michael Savage, there is a new discussion in the autism community regarding whether we should revile you, or pity you? I have a third suggestion. Perhaps we should ask you if you'd like to see one of our best autism professionals yourself? By your own admission you sound like you, too, are on our kids' spectrum. You have noted that as a little boy you demonstrated "ritualistic" behaviors, ones that are very much like the kind that keep our kids out of sync with the real world.
And then, there is the issue of "inappropriate outbursts."
Sadly, our kids have them.
Sadly it sounds like you do too.