News Flash: Kids With Autism Aren’t A Tragedy

Yesterday, Americans became hyper-aware of the rising rate of autism in children. One in 88 kids in the U.S. has autism,  a whopping 78 percent increase over the last decade. The stats, from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, were all over the web and the news, and a hot topic of discussion among parents. “CDC announces new autism rate: 1 in 88. Does this worry you?” blared one headline. “There’s some fresh news on the autism front that will scare the pants off you,” noted another post.

All day long, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from my computer screen. I have a child with cerebral palsy, not autism. Still, as I watched the outpouring of shock and concern, I kept thinking one thing:

People think it’s absolutely awful for a kid to have special needs.

Obviously, the stats are significant. Obviously, no parent wants their child to have special needs. If I could make life easier for my son, Max, I would. But I don’t pity him; he is my kid, not a tragedy. He rocks.

The mass panic and hand-wringing say otherwise. They make me realize how devastating the world believes it is for a child to have autism, or other special needs—and what a hopeless fate it is. It’s as if word had come down that rates of childhood leukemia were soaring, so powerful were the waves of worry emanating from my computer screen.

Like children with autism, my child has a condition—not a life-threatening illness. My child has challenges, not a deadly disease. Fearing an epidemic of H1N1 flu is one thing; fearing an epidemic of less-than-perfect children is another. And let’s be honest, that’s part of what’s driving the colossal freakout. Yes, there’s valid concern about harmful environmental unknowns and funding for services and research, but a major fear factor here is an influx of kids who are “defective.”

One in 88 kids has autism. That one kid in 88 also has awesomeness; too bad nobody’s doing a study on that. Unless you have a child with special needs or are close with one, it can be hard to get the ability in “disability.” I used to feel bad for kids with special needs, until I had one of my own. Now I don’t look at my son and see a child with special needs; I look at Max and see a smart, funny, curious, creative, entertaining and occasionally impossible child (you know, as kids can be). I consider him as bright as my so-called typical daughter, even if they learn at different paces and in different ways.

The news about the rise in autism rates will surely further raise awareness among doctors, helping to detect autism earlier in kids. That’s a great thing: Early intervention is key for enabling kids to achieve. Hopefully, there will be an increase in services as well. But as the concern surges, here I am—my son’s best publicist—hoping to raise awareness that he and other kids with special needs are not worthy of dread.

Max has real physical and cognitive issues. Yet one of my son’s biggest challenges is overcoming the perception that he is terminally flawed. If society didn’t view kids like him as damaged goods, there would be less panic about more of them.

 

Read more from Ellen at her blog Love That Max

Follow her on Twitter @LoveThatMax

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Photo credit: Yasmeen Anderson

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