In case you’re not aware, in honor of Autism Awareness Month, PBS has been running a series called “Autism Now” during the highly-regarded NewsHour program. Robert MacNeil, who co-founded the series with Jim Lehrer, has a 6-year-old grandson in Massachusetts who lives with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For this reason, “Autism Now” kicked off with a very personal episode about MacNeil’s daughter, Alison, and her family, (including MacNeil’s son-in-law, his neurotypical 10-year-old granddaughter and grandson, Nick, who lives with ASD).
When I first heard about this series, I was cautiously optimistic; you see, I often feel sorely disappointed in the way our news programs and talk shows cover this very complicated disorder for several reasons:
1) I don’t feel enough attention is put on how ASD most often affects a child’s whole body, not just brain function. Almost all of the families I personally know raising a child or young adult with ASD struggle daily with one or more of the following complicated medical issues: gastrointestinal disease or distress, low muscle tone and/or function, detoxification impairment, mitochondrial disorders, neurotransmitter imbalances and seizure disorders. Sadly, these are frequently considered “normal” symptoms of ASD and are blown off by medical professionals (who should know better) and by the media who follows the lead of these doctors.
2) Just as Autism affects a child’s whole body, it also affects the whole family. Living with ASD in the house changes everyone, but too often the media ignores how ASD stresses marriages, negatively impacts neurotypical siblings and taxes a family’s budget beyond what many typical families can fathom.
3) While I am pleased to see progress in the area of genetic research, I get tired of only hearing and reading about “genetic” studies. I am a firm believer that ASD is strongly correlated with changes in our modern environment and feel that more emphasis needs to be put on how genetics and environment are interacting to bring on this enormous wave of affected children. An estimated 1 in 58 boys are now diagnosed with ASD. Public school classrooms look very different even since I stopped teaching full time as a reading specialist 10 years ago.
4) Speaking of the wave…our children with ASD don’t stay little forever; they grow into adults with ASD! And, since never before have we had such a vast number of affected individuals, many of us wonder: how will society handle this onslaught of young adults who require a wide spectrum of special services?
For all of these reasons, I am pleased to recommend “Autism Now” with Robert MacNeil!
I’ve seen the first segment in the series two times now and was deeply moved both times. The first time I watched it I was sitting alone at my computer trying to get a feel for if the series would be any different from the standard ASD coverage regurgitated by the media in recent years. The second time I watched the first segment with my husband, I found myself sobbing at the raw, heartfelt and honest emotions Nick’s sister (MacNeil's granddaughter) shared about her brother. It was then I realized the tremendous potential of the “Autism Now” series. I’ve gone on to watch the first four segments and eagerly anticipate the remainder.
My hope and prayer is that this series will be the first of many to take a cold, hard look at the aspects of ASD frequently ignored by mainstream media. The fact that one of my favorite experts in the field was interviewed by MacNeil, Dr. Martha Herbert, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, fuels the fire of my hope. Dr. Herbert validates the importance of biomedical treatments and discusses the role of the environment in ASD.
Finally, I am greatly encouraged by PBS’s approach to airing this series; every evening when the segments air, viewers are encouraged by the anchors to visit the website and not only watch the extended interviews with researchers (like my favorite Dr. Herbert), but they’re actually encouraged to watch upcoming segments. You see, “Autism Now” isn’t about ratings for PBS…it is about sharing important information. How refreshing! Well done Robert MacNeil, NewsHour and PBS!
So, those of you who may have missed the first segments in the series – no worries! Simply click on over to the website and watch them online at your leisure. In my opinion, this mainstream series has the potential to change the “conversation” about ASD for the better. But, will you help? Please consider sharing the link with family, friends, neighbors, teachers, therapists and doctors. Together we can change the “conversation” about ASD in our society.
Leigh Attaway Wilcox is a writer and editor for the projectLD family of companies. Leigh is Assistant Editor of the internationally acclaimed AutismSpot.com and her work can be found on many of the pLDNetworks sites. Leigh is the author of ALL BETTER: A Touch-and-Heal Book published by Piggy Toes Press in 2007. Leigh lives in North Texas with her husband and young son who loves reading, LEGOs, Mario Bros. and also happens to live with Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.