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Thursday, July 26, 2007


I’ve been debating whether to blog about this, because while autism doesn’t affect me personally, how its affected me is deeply personal. Hearing children’s stories about their struggles with autism has hit me straight in the heart. I actually started tearing up in class, feeling extremely sad at the difficulty these children go through and also overwhelmed at their successes. I’ve been keeping a personal journal of my new experiences and was so moved by what I experienced that I wanted to share a little of it…here is a short except of what I wrote tonight:

Today we had a brief introduction to autism. The statistics are frightening. There is no real cause, rhyme or reason why children are developing it, yet it is becoming more common every year. Between 1987-2002 in California alone (per the Department of Developmental Services), the number of caseloads of children with autism has grown like 634%! During the summer of 2004, the occurrence of autism was every 1:166 at a rate of 5 boys to every 1 girl. Three years later, its occurrence changed to 1:150 children develops autism or a related disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome by the age of eight (CDC, 2/8/2007). Nobody understands exactly why its growing. It could be the mercury or heavy metals in immunization shots or environmental factors including food that these children’s parents have grown up around. Nobody really knows though. What’s frightening is that it’s more common than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis or childhood cancer! And the next few years, I’m sure these statistics will even be more flooring.

Seeing those faces, prisoners in their own bodies and minds, it’s a tragedy. Some have such severe autism that they can’t function. What happens to their families and how difficult must it be for everyone involved. There are people though who are “high functioning”, some of which are brilliant like Sue Rubin, the subject of the Academy Award nominated documentary called Autism is a World produced in association with CNN. Somehow, she too finds a way to make it through one day at a time. My professor is friends with her and the stories are amazing and inspiring.

Autism is a real problem. I have friends who work with children who are autistic and its by no means an easy job. Some have burned out, some even get bitten by their students and its all extremely frustrating. If you think about it though, some of these children don’t have a way to release their pent up emotions or even communicate. How then do they get it out? I just read how speech classes might help some of these children, but it doesn’t help all of them. There is no rhyme or reason why it works for some vs. others...

I am by no means an authority on any level when it comes to understanding autism. Hearing about it though, really struck a chord with me. It really puts my own life in perspective. When I see these kids, I am inspired to do more and to do good for all of them. I’m proud to go into a field that makes a difference (particularly because I worked for so long in a field that was the polar opposite of this one). Working in special ed is a selfless job, one that will be immensely difficult, I know. I’m not kidding myself, I don't have a romanticized view of what it will be like. I do know that I am appreciating this whole experience much more than I ever thought I would.


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