There is a rumor that I have been hearing about autism almost since the day it entered our lives five years ago. I have heard this rumor being whispered in the background whenever rational people gather to discuss autism. I have seen hints of it in every new bit of research and every new strategy for helping children with autism. The rumor is this -
Recovery from autism is possible.
The other day I actually came face to face with the rumor. For the first time, I met a child who had been "recovered" from autism. The exact details of the case are irrelevant but, suffice it to say, there was enough overlap in the path that this child travelled and our own that I am convinced of two things.
First, this child really did have a diagnosis of autism and not high functioning autism or Aspergers. And second, even after several hours of watching this child in a social setting and knowing that they had a diagnosis, I couldn't see even the smallest hint of their autism.
While I don't know what exactly "recovered" the child - whether it was biomedical treatments, dietary restrictions, behavioral therapy, or something else completely different - I don't think it really matters.
What matters is that this child's parents took the initiative and provided the extra help that the child needed. What matters is that the child's hard work payed off. I mean, lets be honest, if autism is hard on the parents, it is doubly hard on the child. As parents we can only provide extra help, it is up to the child to do the really hard work of actually learning to overcome autism.
In this case, with this particular child, the combination of treatments and the child's hard work payed off. The child overcame the disabling aspects of their autism. So I beginning to think the rumor might not just be a rumor after all.
Recovery from autism is possible.
Sadly enough, in some parts of the autism world saying those words is like throwing down the gauntlet. You even suggest that your child needs to be "recovered" and you will be told, in no uncertain terms, that there is no need of recovery because there is nothing wrong with them. You will be told that that the problem isn't autism but rather how society responds to autism.
If you are particularly lucky, you will have the pleasure of having someone tell you that you are the problem. You might be told that the problem is that you don't accept and love your child for who they are. I wish I were making this last bit up, but unfortunately I'm not. I have been on the receiving end of this nonsense on several occasions and I have seen other parents attacked in this fashion many times.
So, for the record, to everybody who thinks that trying to help your child recover from a debilitating condition like autism is tantamount to rejecting your child (this means you Amy Caraballo), I have one thing to say to you -
Go to hell and take your stupidity with you.
This idea that recovery from autism is bad is predicated on the idea that autism is a fundamental part of a person and that to "recover" a person from autism you would have to make them something other than they are. So by wanting to "change" a fundamental part of who a person is, you are saying that you don't accept the person for who they are. If you don't accept your child then you consider them an inconvenience and you don't love them.
If you couldn't have guessed by now, I don't agree at all with that idea. Don't get me wrong, I am completely for having society be more accepting of people with autism. Society isn't very accepting of people who are different and there is a lot of work to be done to make it so that people with autism aren't automatically ostracized.
But I don't think that blaming society for an individual's difficulties is a particularly useful approach. Autism can be a debilitating condition and it is one that needs to be addressed at the individual level. Society doesn't stop a person from being able to communicate nor does it create the non-functional rituals and obsessions that are the hallmark's of autism. While it may make it harder for a person with autism to socialize, it doesn't create the underlying social awkwardness in the first place.
These issues are caused by autism and are going to exist whether or not anyone "accepts" them or not. So to help a person with autism, you have to attempt to find an individual solution to that person's specific difficulties. If you do that then you too may be able to help your loved one recover from their autism.
We have not reached that point yet with our children but I hope that someday we will.