Three in One Thousand
She had long hair and unyielding eyes. I was only a resident at the time, so I sat to the side while the attending physician told the mother that her child had something called autism.
He explained it was a neurodevelopmental disorder. When she asked what to do, he told her to spend time with her at home.
At 3, she was too young for school or formal intervention. When we left the room, he told me I was lucky to meet a child with autism because it was so rare.
One in Eighty-Eight
Over 15 years later, we see children with autism every day in our clinical program. We never tell families it is rare or that they should wait to intervene. Instead we talk about how common autism is, how many other families have sat in their shoes, and the importance of early intervention.
We do this in English, in Spanish, in Vietnamese, sometimes with both parents, sometimes with just the mother or another family member. As clinicians, we do this so often the packets of printed information for families need to be restocked weekly.
This is our job as health professionals, to assure children are screened, diagnosed and receive the intervention that can make such a difference.
One in Fifty
Autism awareness requires more than just describing what autism is, explaining that it is common and that early treatment is critical.
We also need to to let people know that while autism is all too common, children with autism are not.
That each is singularly unique and special. That the chance to identify a child with autism early means that, through intervention, their community will have a unique opportunity. They will be able to know and appreciate that child as possibly only those closest know them; as the individual behind the disorder.
In this way, as we work together on autism awareness, we remind ourselves why this work is important. That the most recent sobering 1 in 50 statistic belies what each of us privileged to do this work knows, that each child is more truly one in a million.
The blog post above was first published on April 10, 2013 at the New England INDEX Disability Info Blog at www.disabilityinfo.org/blog. We are happy to republish it here for our readers.