Sunday, April 24, 2011

PBS Autism Now : Excellent Series

I finally finished watching all six parts of the PBS Autism Now Series and I have to say that the series was well done.  No show like this is going to be perfect but I think that the show presented a balanced look at autism and what it means for families.

There are few major themes from the series that I think are important to remember:

  • Families whose children have autism have many of their concerns about their children routinely dismissed by mainstream medicine and are left to find their way on their own.

  • Autism disrupts and changes the life of everyone it touches, not just the people who have autism.  There are many, many families who restructure their entire lives to accommodate the needs of their children who have autism.

  • While increased awareness, diagnostic substitution, and changing criteria undoubtedly play a role in the ever growing number of people with autism these factors alone cannot explain the increase.  The number of people with autism is most likely increasing.

  • There is not just one "autism" but rather many "autisms".  Similarly, there is not going to be one "cause" of autism but rather many "causes" and these "causes" are going to come in the form of gene/environmental interactions.

  • Finding appropriate services for your children is not easy.  There are some areas with good services while most other areas have passable services, at best.

  • The picture for adults living with even moderate autism isn't pretty.  The majority of adults with autism are going to require major supports and are unlikely to be able to live independently.

The one area that I would have liked to see included that wasn't was the disruptive behaviors that go along with autism - aka the dark side of autism.  There was very little mention of the tantrums, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors that so often appear in people with autism.  But then again, this show was aimed at helping people understand autism not making them afraid of it, so I guess this exclusion is understandable.

Regardless, if you haven't watched the series I suggest that you do, it is well worth the time. The video of all six parts, along with the transcripts, are available online.

Part 1: Nick's Story
Part 2: Numbers on the Rise
Part 3: What Are the Causes?
Part 4: Challenges in Schools
Part 5: Helping Adults With Autism
Part 6: Health Policy Questions


  1. I thought this was very well done too. In fact I was taken by surprise at how well it was done. And the website offers many extended interviews and other interesting links, like a bit on the first patient diagnosed by Kanner.

  2. one shortcoming was that they did not interview anyone with autism. It would not have to be me, but a young child (albeit verbal) on the spectrum would have been good.

    Ari Ne'eman said the same thing, but he just wants it to be about him and ASAN.

  3. Hi Jonathan.

    I started writing a reply to your comment but it started getting a little long, so I think I am going to turn it into a post instead (hopefully).

    The long and short of what I was going to say is that while I agree with you, I think the show was trying to avoid the extremes of the spectrum. As a result, they might have had a harder time finding a child with moderate autism who would have been able to give the interview.

    Maybe I am completely off-base, but when you eliminate the asperger and other extremely high functioning groups and go for the middle of the road in a youngish child with autism, how many of that group have enough functional and social skills to do an interview like this?

    I dunno.

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