The Kids Who Don’t Beat Autism

31 Jul 2014

The following is an excerpt from an article published in the New York Times as part of the Motherlode section.

The other day a stranger called our house, out of the blue, to discuss my son Jonah’s health. He’d seen my memoir about our family and autism in the library and he wanted to know if I’d heard about a treatment that was getting remarkable results. Something to do with ocean water, he explained.

Incidentally, this sort of unsolicited heads-up isn’t as unusual as you would think. Not for me or any parent of a child on the autism spectrum. We’ve heard it all — from gluten-free diets to hyperbaric chambers. We’ve learned to tune it out, most of it anyway. But some trace of the miracle-cure talk echoes; it can’t be unheard. Ocean water, huh? As it happens, I told my mystery caller, we’re going to Maine next month.

I could have kicked myself.

But that’s the problem with this whole autism business; we want precisely what is not available to us — something definitive, like a cause, a cure. Enough, already, with the ambiguities, the gray zones.

Still, it was definitiveness that was worrying me when I began reading “The Kids Who Beat Autism,” Ruth Padawer’s cover story in the Aug. 3rd New York Times Magazine. Mainly, I didn’t want to discover all the things my wife, Cynthia, and I could have done and didn’t. That thought keeps me up enough nights as it is.

To her credit, Padawer leaves lots of room for ambiguity. She also raises important questions about one of the many persistent mysteries of autism: Why some kids do better than others. Why some kids recover.

According to the article, “two research groups have released rigorous, systematic studies, providing the best evidence yet that in fact a small but reliable subset of children really do overcome autism.” The conclusion reached by both studies is that the rate of recovery is about 10 percent.

Read the rest of the article in the New York Times