I was talking to a speech therapist about a month ago and we had a very interesting conversation about autism.  She’s been a speech therapist in the school system since the seventies, and when she started out there were no autistic children in the entire school.  None in the entire district.  In fact, the first autistic child she helped was in 1991.  She said she figured he would be the “one in her whole career.”  She didn’t know much about how to help or teach this boy because there were only a few paragraphs in one book she could find on the subject, but she did her best. 

The next year, she got another one.  By 1995 she had four autistic patients.  There were only about 400 children in the school at the time, and she just thought this was an enormous amount of autistic kids to have in one tiny school.  She started to worry that maybe our community was an autism hot spot.  Sort of like how there are cancer hot spots that sometimes pop up in communities.  She was so worried about it that she wrote a letter to some man at Yale University (I cannot remember this man’s name) explaining it to him and asking for his opinion.

He wrote her back and said that it wasn’t just our community.  That they were seeing a 5 to 1 rise in autism throughout the entire country, and they didn’t know why.  This was back in 1995.  I get chills when I think about this because my own autistic son was born in 1995, and I had NO idea this was going on.  Autism wasn’t on my radar at all.  In fact, the only time I’d ever even heard the word autism was on a public service announcement that used to run on TV, where Sylvester Stallone talked about his autistic son being stuck in his own little world and asking for funding for a cure.  (When my son was first diagnosed, Sylvester Stallone was the person I thought about.  I bet not many people can make THAT claim…)

When my son was about 20 months old, he pulled a bookcase over on top of himself.  While we were at the emergency room, the doctor was VERY excited to find out that my son most likely had autism (at that time everyone told me he had it, but that he couldn’t possibly get a real diagnosis until he was 3.  Oh, how things have changed…).  This doctor asked if I would mind if he brought in medical students to see him.  I said it was okay, so he brought in about 5 students and started telling them about autism and about how they might not ever meet another child with it, so you know, get a good look. 

Fast forward 13 years, and I cannot IMAGINE this conversation happening today.  I heard that one in every 150 children born in the United States has autism.  But if you just count boys, the figure is now 1 in every 99 boys born.  The autism rate used to be 1 in every 10,000 children born.

What the hell is happening, and WHY is there not wide-spread panic in the streets?  Autistic kids are everywhere these days.  Everywhere.  And yes, some of them are misdiagnosed but the majority are not.  This is not simply a case of better diagnosis’.  Otherwise, the school system from 20 years ago would have been overrun with quirky kids who had a hard time getting along with others and who didn’t talk much.  And we know this wasn’t the case.  Something is going on.  Something has changed in one generation.  It could be pollution, hormones in our food, it could be ultrasounds.  It could be vaccinations (my personal belief).  The point is, something is triggering this and we need to find out what it is.

To bring this around to the topic of CBW, Seth has autism in the strip mainly because I wanted to raise awareness.  I also wanted to show that raising an autistic child doesn’t have to be all grim all the time.  Making Seth autistic was a hard decision to make, but I have not regretted doing it.  The Torres’ are far from alone in what they are experiencing.  Judging from the mail I receive about autism, it seems just about everyone either knows someone with autism, or has an autistic person in their family.  Treatments for autism aren’t cheap, and they aren’t paid for by insurance. 

For example, my friend has a child in a wheelchair.  Insurance pays for whatever he needs, no questions asked.  She also has an autistic child, and he can’t get services from insurance because he has a developmental disability that isn’t expected to get better, so too bad, so sad.  Next!  I did a cartoon about this once, long ago.  Here it is.  I’ll end on this note, as I think it sums up my feelings pretty well.