Lost Childhood III (2011). Photograph by Luna TMG

Lost Childhood III (2011) Luna TMG

Autism is a growing healthcare issue worldwide. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 110 children in the U.S. suffers from an autistic spectrum disorder; compare this figure with other childhood disorders, such as childhood diabetes (with a prevalence of about 1 in 500 children) or Down syndrome (about 1 in 1000). Even so, private funding for autism research is much lower than for these other disorders. It is likely that much of this disparity is due to the public’s poor understanding of a condition that not too long ago was still thought of by many as a form of mental retardation—or even “childhood schizophrenia.”

Autism can be a difficult condition to understand. Children with autism display widely varying patterns of behavior and levels of dysfunction. Many children on the autistic spectrum can grow up to lead productive and independent lives. Their chances of doing this are increased by early intervention, but this intervention will only occur if parents and educators learn to recognize the disorder for what it is. It will only occur if the public understands autism well enough to care about it, and make it a priority–and fund treatment and research.

In this issue we will attempt to shed some light on this ubiquitous yet enigmatic condition by presenting three perspectives on autism. First, Dr. Temple Grandin will share with us a view of the world through her eyes—the eyes of a person with autism. Autism is a disorder which renders many of those afflicted permanently mute and uncommunicative, but Dr. Grandin has become well known for her ability to relate her experience to the rest of us. Next we’ll hear from psychologist Giacomo Vivanti, whose research is exploring some of the causes behind the learning difficulties of children with autism. Finally, Jessica Heronemus will tell us what it’s like to be a parent of not one, but two children with autism.

The images accompanying the feature also have a story to tell, as either the subject or the artist of each is a person on the autistic spectrum.

These essays and images reveal a condition that has no single face. Most people on the spectrum are isolated, disconnected from the rest of us. But often a fascinating and unexpected perspective on the world hides behind the silence–and occasionally a truly remarkable mind.

 

 

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