As a part of Autism Awareness Month, PBS NewsHour is featuring a six-part special series on autism beginning tonight. The series covers many aspects of the disorder, of which cause and treatment are still unknown.
But the series, Autism Today, will be as much of a personal story as it is a clinical one. Retired reporter and co-founder of the PBS NewsHour, Robert MacNeil (remember, it used to be called the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour) will feature his own grandson, Nick, a six-year-old who has been diagnosed with autism. Producer of the segment, Caren Zucker, is the mother of a 16-year-old with autism.
The series starts tonight (check local PBS listings) with “An introduction to Nick and autism as a whole body experience”:
Monday, April 18 An introduction to Nick and autism as a whole body experience: MacNeil brings viewers along on a visit with his daughter and grandson Nick in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see how autism affects the whole family, including his 10-year-old sister, Neely. Nick experiences autism not just as a disorder in brain development but also as physical ailments affecting the whole body.
Tuesday, April 19 Autism Prevalence: Why are the numbers of children with autism increasing? At the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, California, MacNeil sees the wide range of different behaviors that comprise the autism spectrum. Anthropologist Richard Grinker argues that the rising numbers of children with autism is explained because conditions previously given other names, like mental retardation, are now included in the autism spectrum. Scientist Irva Hertz-Picciotto says the wider definition only partly explains the increased prevalence, pointing instead to a variety of environmental factors.
Wednesday, April 20 Autism Causes: The rise in autism numbers has created a surge in research to find the causes. For the latest thinking, Robert MacNeil speaks with four leading researchers: Dr. Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, Dr. David Amaral of the MIND Institute, Dr. Martha Herbert of Harvard University and Dr. Craig Newschaffer of Drexel University.
Thursday, April 21 Autism Treatment: Although children with autism see doctors periodically, they go to school everyday. It is the school system that bears most of the burden of treating children with autism because treatment means education. MacNeil visits two schools in New York a public school in the Bronx teaching 700 children with autism and a charter school created in Manhattan as a model of possibilities in educating children with autism. With only 30 students, it can use one-on-one teacher/student ratios employing intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis the gold standard treatment for autism.
Monday, April 25 Adults with Autism: Although federal law mandates educational services for children with autism, there are virtually no services when they become adults. MacNeil profiles Zachary Hamrick in Mahwah, New Jersey, who is about to turn 21. As his family contemplates the uncertain future now facing hundreds of thousands of young people like him, his parents ask themselves, “What will happen when we die?”
Tuesday, April 26 Autism Policy: The NewsHour series ends with a discussion of the public policy issues raised in the series, including the enormous discrepancy in the quality and availability of services for children and future adults in what the federal committee that determines research priorities for autism now calls a “national health emergency”, with a panel of experts including: Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health; Catherine Lord, Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan; Ilene Lainer, Executive Director of the New York Center for Autism a private advocacy group, and John Shestack, a Hollywood producer and the co-founder of Cure Autism Now, a former advocacy group.
PBS has also set up a site online with information and resources, as well as a place for viewers to ask and get answers.
Check out Babble’s list of 25 bloggers on Autism.