Sunday, July 6, 2008

Autism--Ugly Past/Better Future

What I find interesting is the dichotomy of the phrase “until it happens to you.” Well I know a good one—actually two. One happened five years ago when Meghan was seven and my kids and I had just come home from being out all day. We had just recently moved into our house and only had ¼ of our fence installed—installing a fence to keep Meghan safe because she was prone to running off. So, as I was saying, we came back home and after I unloaded the kids from the car, Meghan ran up and behind the side of fence that was put up and I, temporarily, lost sight of her. I ran up and around the fence, but she was gone. I searched the area that I thought she might have run off to, but did not find her. So I didn’t hesitate to call the police. Now, you really don’t want to know how this conversation went, but here it is in black and white:

Police: "P... Police "
Me: "My daughter is missing and she is autistic. "
Police: "What, missing, how long? "
Me: "Just a few minutes but I can’t find her and she is AUTISTIC. "
Police: "Artistic? Well I’m sure she’ll come back soon. "
Police: "Okay, but it could take a while…. "

(What do you think he thought I was telling him: that my highly-creative-and-talented-daughter... ran off?)

The police came, two of them, or maybe three, with all their pretty lights flashing—like a show, or a “testosterone play”—some, twenty minutes later…Holy Hell! And all of my neighbors, who I didn’t even know yet, came streaming out of the woodwork—probably, to enjoy the show.

To make a long story short, Meghan was found soon after by one of the police officers; she was found walking naked down the street after taking a dip in one of the nearby ponds.

The real kicker here is that one of the officers had told me that they would have been there a lot sooner if they had "known" she was “ARTISTIC.” Nice!! But this group of police also thought that I didn’t do a good job “taking care” of Meghan either, as if I were inside taking a nap while my two autistic children were outside playing in the street or something! Yeah, right! If that were the case, I would have lost Meghan YEARS ago. I wanted to scream!!

A couple of years later, in a community close to where I live, a police officer’s son, who was also autistic, had gone missing one day and not only, I’m assuming, did “all the troops” come marching out… but this officer enacted a counsel to “educate” the local police on how to react to children who are autistic and go missing. It was reported that autistic children are likely to “bolt” away from their caregiver at any given time and are not likely to find their way home or even be able to tell another adult that he/she is missing and, of course--time is of the essence!!

You don’t say?

Is it true to say that nothing is truly ever understood or questioned until it happens to them? Just like in the “cold mother” theory; a highly regarded psychologist named Bruno Bettelheim had “research” and declared that autism was a direct result of a “refrigerator mother” or “cold mother” who was suppressing her “indifference” for her own child and, in essence, causing the child to be traumatized and escape into his/her own world—known as autism. Can you imagine?

It finally took another psychologist—who had an autistic child—to openly acknowledge that the "cold mother" theory couldn’t possibly be true and that Bruno Bettelheim was a fraud and hadn’t even studied or worked with one autistic person, as they finally learned and exposed him!

By the way, good for the police officer who worked to train other police officers about autism. I didn’t want that to go unrecognized or unappreciated.


Bonnie Sayers (autismfamily) said...

Good thing that fence is now all the way up and they found your daughter quickly after they slowly arrived.

At least they did not contact CPS on you. When I first moved into this rental house ten years ago in Los Angeles and my nonverbal son was 2 years of age I had to struggle to get him in the house and some guy drove by and stopped and started to get out of his car to say something to me and I said that my child had autism and walked away from him.

I now have a flag banner on my lawn that says autism awareness and magnets on the car.

Holly Nappi Collins said...

That's right--autism magnets and and alarms on the doors. Someone also told me that she had business card (calling cards) educating people about autism, just in case she needed them on-hand.

A funny thing about this story is that my husband was on an early train (to come home and help) and when I called him on his cell to tell him she had been found,the woman sitting next to him told him that she also has an autistic son and this is not unusual for her--bells and whisles on the doors...etc.. Strange. I'm sure they had a lot to talk about on the way home!