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Monday, February 27, 2012

Growing Old with Autism

Noah, my younger brother, does not talk. Nor can he dress himself, prepare a meal for himself or wipe himself. He is a 42-year-old man, balding, gaunt, angry and, literally, crazy. And having spent 15 years at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., a state facility, Noah has picked up the con's trick of lashing out before anyone could take a shot at him. Noah's autism has been marked by "three identified high priority maladaptive behaviors that interfere with his adaptive programming. These include banging his head against solid surfaces, pinching himself and grabbing others," according to his 2004 California Department of Developmental Services individual program plan (IPP). Remarkably, that clinical language actually portrays Noah more favorably than the impression one would get from a face-to-face meeting. Despite the successful marketing of the affliction by activists and interest groups, autism is not a childhood condition. It is nondegenerative and nonterminal: the boys and girls grow up. For all the interventions and therapies and the restrictive diets and innovative treatments, the majority of very low-functioning autistics like Noah will require intensive support throughout their lives. If recent estimates of prevalence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are accurate, then 1 in 150 of today's children is autistic. That means we are in for a vast number of adult autistics — most better adjusted than Noah, some as bad off — who will be a burden to parents, siblings and, eventually, society. We are largely unprepared to deal with this crisis.

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