I keep having the oddest experience.  I will be somewhere and I will see a child who seems totally fine.  They are chatting with their mothers, they are playing with other kids, they bring their moms flowers they picked for them, they are pointing… they don’t present as autistic at ALL to me.  And then the mother will tell me that her child is autistic.  (I actually wrote a Sunday strip about this that will run sometime in the next month).

I never argue with the parents even though, inside, I am always thinking, “Excuse me, but how is THAT autism?!”  Usually, when I say that I also have an autistic child they are excited to speak with me.  Until they meet my son (who is severely disabled).  Then, it’s quite a different story.  Their reactions have run the gamut from being completely freaked out and worried that their child might be headed in that direction, to insisting that MY son doesn’t have autism at all because, as you can see by little Henry here, autism is a much different animal than that.  Um… no.  Unfortunately, MY son is the one presenting with classic autism and yours is the one who isn’t.

My goodness, you might be thinking, it’s not a competition!  Can’t they BOTH be autistic?  And the answer to that is, of course they can.  The autism spectrum is an extremely broad one, and the kids on one end will present nothing like the kids on the other end.  It used to be that you had your Aspergers on one end (who are your high functioning brilliant but awkward kids) who never had a speech delay but have a very hard time with social skills and cues.  These are kids who go on to have jobs and friends and families, and who are able to support themselves as adults.  In the middle were your moderate to high functioning autistic kids.  At the other end were your severely autistic kids.  The kids who rock.  Who don’t speak.  Who are self-injurous and have horrible behavior problems.  Who make no eye contact and bang their heads.  These are  the kids who end up in institutions because their parents cannot handle them.  These are the kids who will require constant care for their entire life.  And that, my dears, is QUITE a broad spectrum indeed.

But tonight, my best friend told me that now they have added sensory integration disorder to the autism spectrum and they are thinking of adding ADHD to it too.  That would move Aspie kids more to the middle of what would then be an ENORMOUS spectrum.  Kate made a very good point.  The problem with this is that when you label everybody as autistic, then suddenly no one is.  And some people really ARE and they need help that they won’t get if everyone and their mother can suddenly qualify for a slice of the limited autism resource pie.

I guess I don’t understand why the medical community is suddenly ready to throw everyone who is the slightest bit quirky an autism diagnosis.  Can’t you just be quirky?  I remember when every kid suddenly had ADD or ADHD, and now it seems like every other kid has autism.  But now if ADHD really is added to the autism spectrum… Oh boy.  The sky’s the LIMIT on where this thing could end up.

There really is an autism epidemic going on, but in my opinion, it’s being masked and watered down by the plethora of kids who are being misdiagnosed with autism.  I worry that this is going to cause autism to start flying underneath people’s radar’s again.  Something is causing the very real and rapid increase of this disorder, but if the public starts viewing autism as mild, easily treatable and slightly irritating only, then kids who are at the lower end of the spectrum will really suffer. 

Speaking as the mother of one of those kids… this breaks my heart.