Autism: False Words and False Hope

Steven Hajducko
Prof. Sims
MWF 10:00-11:00 29
November 1995

Autism is a childhood disease where the child is in a private world of
their own. A description of an autistic child by her mother is:

We start with an image---a tiny, golden child on hands and knees,
circling round and round a spot on the floor in mysterious self-
absorbed delight. She does not look up, though she is smiling and
laughing; she does not call our attention to the mysterious
object of her pleasure. She does not see us at all. She and the spot
are all there is, and though she is eighteen months old, an age
for touching, tasting, pointing, pushing, exploring, she is doing
none of these. (Groden 2)

This is the most important trait in an autistic child: They don\'t interact or
socialize with other people. Other characteristics in autistic children are
language retardation and ritualistic or compulsive behaviors. It used to be
thought that children became autistic because of "poor parenting" and that the
only solution was that the parents should be removed from the child (Baron-Cohen
26). Now it is known that autism is caused by biological factors due to:
neurological symptoms, mental handicap, genetic causes, infections, and even
difficulties in pregnancy.
Even though autism is thought of as a disease or disorder, autistic
children can demonstrate special skills. These skills are referred to as
"isolated islets of intelligence" (Baron-Cohen 53). Some examples of these are
found in an autistic child\'s ability to draw, play music, or recall a certain
date. Nadia, an autistic child, has the ability to draw in an "almost
photographic way" (Baron-Cohen 54). Autistic children can also play instruments,
accurately sing songs, recognize structures of music, etc. A problem that
arises when autistic children are going through therapy is that they start to
lose their remarkable skills.
For parents to find out that their child is autistic can be very shocking.
They go from having a bouncy, livey baby to a having a total stranger as their
child. Many therapies have been devised to help autistic children. Some of
these therapies are: behavior therapy, speech and language therapy, holding
therapy, music therapy, and the newest one, facilitation therapy. Since most
autistic children are different and their behaviors are different, one therapy
may be more effective than another one. Facilitation therapy is catching on,
but is already becoming a controversy. Although facilitation therapy is one of
the most popular used methods in communicating with autistic children, it is
being downgraded because of the controversies where the children are being
manipulated by the facilitators.
A child with autism can be detected by the age of three. "If treament is
started right away, the child may gain their normal functioning. This is a
critical factor in reversing the disorder" (McEachin 105). Other elements in
autistic therapy that are important factors in helping with the child are
"observations, establishing relationships, and changing behaviors" (Simons 27).
Once autistic children have made a relationship, they are brought closer to the
outside world. That is why facilitation therapy is so popular. This kind of
therapy helps the outside world to communicate with the lost child. The
autistic child is supported by a facilitator who holds the arm, the wrist, or
the hand. This support helps the child to control his/her movements in order
for the child to point to words, pictures, etc. In this way autistic children
can express feelings or thoughts that no one thought they had.
So why is there controversy over facilitation therapy ? The autistic
child is being observed, a relationship is formed between the child and the
facilitator, and the gap is being closed. The problem with facilitation therapy
is expressed by Dr. Green from the New York Times, "Facilitated communication
seems tantamount to a miracle, but it\'s more like a self-fulfulling prophecy -
you see what you want to see" (C11). There is always the chance that the child
is not the one expressing the thoughts. Scientists in the New York Times "are
likening it to a Ouija board" (C1), because as people subconsciously move the
message indicator to get an answer to their question, facilitators can move the
autistic child\'s hand to what they want. Another argument against facilitation
therapy was in an article, the "Harvard Educational Review," where three
concerns were mentioned: 1) facilitated communication manipulated the
handicapped, 2) facilitation has never been proven valid, and 3) facilitation
contradicts "50 years of research in autism and developmental disabilities"
(Biklen 110). It seems impossible that an autistic child who