I apologize that I have not been posting as much as you’d like me to. You know how crazy things get once the kids go back to school. Those schools and daycares start reporting “outbreaks” of sniveling, snotty kids. Then we have to investigate, write up reports, make recommendations, and piss off parents when we tell them their under- and unimmunized buttercups are to stay home. And then there are the responsibilities in academia that I managed to throw onto my plate. (Lecturing is not easy.)
Anyway, I wanted to talk to you today about the things we see and the things we don’t see. There used to be a time when we believed that it was “miasmas” that caused diseases like cholera. John Snow came along and proved it was water, but he didn’t prove that it was bacteria. That would come later with Pasteur and Koch. Still, John Snow used the available evidence to disprove a theory/belief, even when he didn’t have all the answers.
This is the issue with autism. We know what it physical and neurological representations are, and we know that vaccines don’t cause it. We just don’t know what does cause it and, if possible, how it can be treated or cured. To be honest, I do not believe that it can be cured. It would be wonderful to see a developmentally delayed child catch up immediately to their peers and live a “normal” life. But that’s not the case.
People of any age with a developmental delay do move ahead with their development, but they don’t hit the milestone that “normal” people in their groups hit until later in their lives. That is, a child with autism may not learn what they’re “supposed” to know by age seven until they’re ten. I keep putting words in quotes because I’m also not a believer in normality. My biostatistics training tells me that everything is on a scale, and things that are normal are just those things in a range within two standard deviations of an average. As you can see, even that is a range, a spectrum, if you will. In a sense, we’re all developmentally delayed in one way or another.
I have a friend who didn’t walk until he was 18 months old. But then he was reading at age two. He graduated high school at age 16 but then took five years to get through college and four to get a master’s degree. He didn’t have a girlfriend, even a “let’s-hang-out-and-make-out” girlfriend until he was in college, and then never really made solid friendships until he was a professional. He was ahead in some aspects of his life and behind in others.
This is the same with autistics who I have met. They are brilliant at some things and behind on others. They can do some things way better than me, and I can do other things way better than them. And that’s how it is with people in general. There’s always a bigger fish, and that food chain is one big, paradoxical circle.
So we can see some things and we can’t see others. We see a child with a developmental delay who cannot communicate, but we may not be seeing the genius still growing within. We have good evidence that there are plenty of developmentally delayed children who catch up and move ahead with their lives without any problem. They’re not “lost” or “dead” to the world. Not by a long shot. But seeing this requires us to have the kind of mind that John Snow (and others) had. John Snow didn’t hear the miasma theory and run with it. He tested it.
On the other hand, we have people like Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, who continue to fail to listen to reason and continue to run with bogus theories and thoughts on autism. Just the other day, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield was on a radio show known for conspiracy theories and unprovable (and quite improbable) plots. He fit right in.
Sadly, too many parents of children with a developmental delay also fall for the trap of not thinking things thoroughly. I don’t blame them. If I had a child with special needs, I would probably try to find fault outside myself (and outside the child). I really would probably try to blame it on something… If I didn’t know better. I do know better, and I’ll keep working to helping everyone else know better.
I am the quack’s worst nightmare.